Volume 78, Number 5

November 2003

Racialized Memory and Reliability: Due Process Applied to Cross-Racial Eyewitness Identifications

Radha Natarajan

Currently, defendants accused of a crime based on a cross-racial eyewitness identification are not afforded due process under the United States Constitution. In Manson v. Brathwaite, the Supreme Court developed a test to govern admissibility standards for eyewitness identification evidence. The test relies on the assumption that erroneous convictions occur mainly because police obtain identifications through procedures that improperly suggest whom the eyewitness should choose. While this assumption may be true for same-race identification, cross-racial identifications present a further problem. Scientists agree that people are far better at recognizing members of their own race than they are at recognizing members of another race and that this own-race bias causes mistaken identifications. In fact, according to studies, a Black innocent suspect has a 56% greater chance of being misidentified as the perpetrator by a White eyewitness than a Black eyewitness, even without suggestiveness. In order to ensure compliance with the Due Process Clause in cases involving cross-racial identifications, a new admissibility test must account for the racialized nature of memory. In this Note, Radha Natarajan develops an alternative test for cross-racial eyewitness identification evidence that is consistent with constitutional guarantees and scientific reality.