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Supreme Court Declines To Rule on Eyewitness Testimony

The U.S. Supreme Court declined Monday to consider whether a state can block defense lawyers from attacking the dependability of eyewitness testimony.

The court turned aside a challenge brought by a Louisiana man, Darrill Henry, who was convicted of murdering a woman and her daughter in New Orleans in 2004. The only evidence offered by prosecutors was the testimony of neighbors who claimed they saw him leave the home of the victims at the time of the murders.

Relying on a Louisiana law, the trial judge refused to let Henry's lawyers call experts in eyewitness testimony or to challenge the procedures used when police showed photos of suspects to the witnesses. He was convicted on two counts of murder and sentenced to life in prison.

Such a ban on testimony, his lawyers said, violates the constitutional right to present a complete defense and to confront prosecution witnesses, in light of the well documented shortcoming of eyewitness testimony.

Nebraska has a similar ban on expert testimony about eyewitnesses, and the federal courts have restricted its use in Alabama, Georgia, and Florida.