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The problem with eyewitness identification

On Behalf of | Apr 8, 2018 | Violent Crimes

In New York and throughout the United States, victims of crimes are often asked to choose their attacker out of a physical or photograph lineup. Although this method of perpetrator identification is still widely used in the U.S., flaws in the procedure can lead to wrongful conviction of an innocent person. According to the Innocence Project, 354 people have been exonerated from their criminal sentences after DNA evidence proved they were innocent of committing a crime. At least 70 percent of those cases involved eyewitness misidentification. Why are innocent people being picked out of eyewitness lineups on such a regular basis?

Lineups that are not properly organized can lead a witness to select the wrong person. There should be more than one person matching the perpetrator’s identity included in the lineup. For example, if the perpetrator is said to have a beard and a tattoo on his arm, there should be more than one person in the lineup with a beard and an arm tattoo. Furthermore, lineup should be led by a double-blind administrator. This means that the person conducting the lineup has no knowledge of the crime. This keeps the administrator from inadvertently saying something that may lead the witness to choose a certain person from the lineup.

Finally, all lineups should be taped and recorded so that officials can review the footage to ensure there was no leading of the witness or other issues involved. Studies show how crucial eyewitness testimony is in criminal trials. Even if there is no evidence linking a person to a crime, a positive eyewitness ID can cause a jury to come back with a guilty verdict.