Eyewitness misidentification is a contributing factor to a significant
number of wrongful convictions in the U.S.
Thousands of people spend their days behind bars as part of the U.S. prison
system. While some California prisoners are serving time for crimes they
committed, others have never committed a crime at all. Since 1989, 329
people have been exonerated of their crimes after DNA evidence proved
their innocence, according to the Innocence Project. Another 8 people
were proven innocent through use of evidence other than DNA testing that
reasonable doubt of guilt. Hundreds of cases are currently under investigation. These surprising
statistics leave many people wondering how innocent people could be unjustly
incriminated in the first place.
Although there are several common factors that lead to wrongful convictions,
eyewitness misidentification is the most common. In fact, eyewitness misidentification
was involved in 72 percent of cases that were later overturned due to
Many studies have proven that eyewitness identification and testimony are
inherently unreliable. Improper lineup procedures, limitations of the
human memory and environmental factors all play a role in the identification
and testimonial process. The administrator of a lineup may unintentionally
lead the witness to choose a specific person by making comments before,
during or after the process. The way the lineup is organized can also
contribute to a misidentification. For example, if a perpetrator was said
to have had a beard, and there is only one person in the lineup with a
beard, the witness is more likely to choose that person.
Studies conducted on the human memory and the way people process information
also support the idea that eyewitness identification may not always be
accurate. People are less likely to remember specific details about a
crime as time passes.
The Innocence Project also reported that people often have trouble identifying
key characteristics of a suspect if he or she is a different race than
their own. This occurred in at least 40 percent of the cases affected
by eyewitness misidentification. Environmental factors, including how
much light was present at the crime scene, and how far away the suspect
was from the witness, contribute to the accuracy of identification as well.
Steps in preventing eyewitness misidentification
Many states have adopted strict protocol when it comes to carrying out
physical and photo lineups. Blind lineups should be conducted, led by
an administrator who is unaware of the suspect's identity, according
to the American Bar Association. Lineup administrators should inform witnesses
that the suspect may or may not be present in the lineup. Lineup procedures
should be properly organized and recorded in order to protect those who
have been falsely
accused of a crime.
People who face criminal charges deserve to be given a fair trial. A criminal
defense attorney in California may help to ensure your rights are upheld
in court. An attorney may help you explore all of your legal options,
formulate an aggressive defense and represent your case in a court of law.