N.J. appeals panel upholds conviction in case that led to sweeping new eyewitness testimony standards
By Christopher Baxter
August 21, 2013
The three-judge panel Tuesday affirmed a lower court’s finding that the prosecution of Cecilia Chen, 38, who is serving a 10-year sentence in state prison, was not tainted when the victim’s husband showed his wife a picture of Chen that matched a sketch she had drawn.
Chen was found guilty of attempted murder, aggravated assault and weapons offenses after a 2006 trial, but appealed the decision claiming the identification of her by the victim, Helen Kim, was tainted because her husband had suggested she was the killer.
Chen was the former girlfriend of Kim’s husband, JC Kim.
The case was eventually heard by the state Supreme Court, which upheld the convictions on the condition that a hearing be held to determine if the identification was appropriate. That hearing, held in 2011, found no flaws with the conviction.
But Chen’s appeal and another led the Supreme Court to to declare that the state’s standards for eyewitness testimony were unreliable and could encourage police misconduct. The ruling was an acknowledgement of three decades of scientific studies concluding that memory is not as reliable as initially believed and that investigators as well as private citizens continue to taint the identification process.
Although the court kept intact the tradition of lineups and photo arrays of suspects, it ordered judges to hold pretrial hearings if there is evidence of suggestive identification methods. The ruling also directs trial judges to give jurors more instruction on how eyewitness testimony can be influenced.
The ruling was based on a consolidation of appeals filed by Chen and Larry Henderson, who was convicted in 2004 of manslaughter.