News from the Courts

Issue December 2015

SJC announces new jury instructions on eyewitness identification

The Justices of the Supreme Judicial Court have announced that they have approved new jury instructions on eyewitness identification. The new model instruction replaces the provisional instruction approved in Commonwealth v. Gomes, 470 Mass. 352, 379-388 (2015). A new preliminary/contemporaneous instruction also has been approved that will be given, upon request of a party, before opening statements or immediately before or after the testimony of an identifying witness.

In Gomes, the court stated that it would adopt a model instruction after soliciting public comments on the provisional instruction. In approving the new instructions, the justices expressed appreciation to the Standing Committee on Eyewitness Identification for their recommendations regarding revisions to the provisional instruction, and to the members of the bench and bar who submitted thoughtful comments.

Noting that the instructions will need to evolve with new developments in the science of identification and with the experience of judges using them, the justices asked the Standing Committee to continue to review the applicable science, monitor the efficacy of the instructions in providing guidance to jurors and recommend further revisions as needed or warranted.

The statement of the Supreme Judicial Court, the preliminary/contemporaneous instruction, and the Model Eyewitness Identification Instruction can be found at 473 Mass. 1051 (2015), and are also available at www.mass.gov/courts.

SJC to host Magna Carta exhibit on 800th anniversary

In recognition of the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court will host "Magna Carta: Enduring Legacy 1215-2015" in the Great Hall of the John Adams Courthouse from November through January.

The traveling exhibit was developed by the American Bar Association, the Library of Congress and the Law Library of Congress. The exhibit features 13 banners reflecting images of Magna Carta and other manuscripts and objects that illustrate Magna Carta's influence throughout the centuries. The exhibit will be displayed in the Great Hall of the John Adams Courthouse, opened Nov. 19, and is viewable to the public Monday through Friday, excluding holidays, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., until Jan. 7, 2016.

The Supreme Judicial Court, originally called the Superior Court of Judicature, was established in 1692 and is the oldest appellate court in continuous existence in the Western Hemisphere.

The Massachusetts Constitution is the oldest, still functioning written constitution in the world.

The exhibit has travelled throughout the past year and a half to public buildings such as courthouses, law schools, universities, state houses and public libraries around the United States. For more information about the American Bar Association's "Magna Carta: Enduring Legacy 1215-2015" exhibit, visit http://ambar.org/mctravelingexhibit.