Is eyewitness identification a reliable source of evidence?

An unknown number of people who are currently incarcerated may not be guilty of committing a crime at all. Innocent people are placed behind bars because they are wrongfully convicted of crimes. Approximately 362 people have been released from their prison sentences after later testing of DNA evidence showed they were innocent. More than 70 percent of these cases involved eyewitness misidentification. This occurs when an eyewitness chooses the wrong person from a physical or photo lineup.

There are several factors that can lead a witness to select an innocent person from a lineup. First, the lineup administrator may inadvertently lead the witness to choose a particular person. This can be avoided by having the lineup administrator is blind to the facts of the case. The lineup administrator should tell the witness that the suspect may or may not be present in the lineup. Furthermore, the lineup may be organized in such a way that only one person matches the description of the perpetrator. For example, if the suspect was said to have long hair and a beard, there should be more than one person in the lineup that has these characteristics. The lineup procedures should be taped so that the judge can review the identification process to ensure that everything was handled correctly.

When a witness chooses the wrong person from a lineup, law enforcement may start building a case against the wrong person. All the while the real perpetrator roams free.

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


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