Is eyewitness identification reliable?

You may be surprised to find out that not all sexual predators behind bars are guilty of committing a crime. In fact, there are a number of people who have been released from prison after spending years, sometimes decades, behind bars for a rape or sexual crime they did not commit. How does this horrible tragedy occur on such a regular basis? Errors in eyewitness lineups, as well as the inaccuracy of the human memory under times of severe stress can often lead victims to identify an innocent person as their attacker.

According to the Innocence Project, eyewitness misidentification was involved in 70 percent of the cases that were overturned after further evidence showed the person was innocent of the crime. There are several factors that may prompt a person to mistakenly identify the wrong person from a lineup. People are more likely to make a mistake if the perpetrator is a different race than their own. Studies show that people are unable to distinguish key facial characteristics in different races. This is especially true under times of high stress. The human brain may fail to pick up crucial pieces of information while it is struggling to deal with the stressful situation. The deficits in information may be filled in with false beliefs and invalid reoccurrences of what happened. People also have trouble remember exact details when there is a weapon involved.

Other factors, such as how far the perpetrator was from the victim, lighting, weather, visibility and whether the perpetrator was wearing a mask, can influence the decision as well. When someone makes a wrong choice, another person may become victimized and end up losing years of their life in jail.

This information is intended to educate and should not be taken as legal advice.


FindLaw Network