Mistaken eyewitness identifications contributed to approximately 69% of the more than 375 wrongful convictions in the United States overturned by post-conviction DNA evidence, according to the Innocence Project.
• Inaccurate eyewitness identifications can confound investigations from the earliest stages. Critical time is lost while police are distracted from the real perpetrator, focusing instead on building the case against an innocent person.
• Despite solid and growing proof of the inaccuracy of traditional eyewitness ID procedures – and the availability of simple measures to reform them – traditional eyewitness identifications remain among the most commonly used and compelling evidence brought against criminal defendants.
Traditional Eyewitness Identification Practices – And Problems
• In a standard lineup, the lineup administrator typically knows who the suspect is. Research shows that administrators often provide unintentional cues to the eyewitness about which person to pick from the lineup.
• In a standard lineup, without instructions from the administrator, the eyewitness often assumes that the perpetrator of the crime is one of those presented in the lineup. This often leads to the selection of a person despite doubts.
• In a standard lineup, the lineup administrator may choose to compose a live or photo lineup where non-suspect “fillers” do not match the witness’s description of the perpetrator or do not resemble the suspect. This can cause the suspect to stand out to a witness because of the composition of the lineup. This unintentional suggestion can lead an eyewitness to identify a particular individual in a photo array or lineup.
• In a standard lineup, the lineup administrator may not elicit or document a statement from a witness articulating their level of confidence in an identification made during the identification process. A witness’s confidence can be particularly susceptible to influence by information provided to the witness after the identification process. Research shows that information provided to a witness after an identification suggesting that the witness selected the right person can dramatically, yet artificially, increase the witness’s confidence in the identification. Therefore it is critically important to capture an eyewitness’s level of confidence at the point in time that an identification is made.
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