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Eyewitness identification: Convicting innocent people

On Behalf of | Nov 22, 2019 | Firm News |

In the United States, everyone has the right to a fair trial. However, glitches in the process may lead to the conviction of an innocent person. This is more common than you may think. In fact, the judicial system released more than 360 people from their prison sentences after DNA evidence proved them innocent of committing a crime. 

One of the most common factors leading to the wrongful arrest and conviction of people is eyewitness misidentification. Flaws in the eyewitness lineup process can result in an innocent person getting picked out of a lineup. However, juries and judges still place a lot of weight on eyewitness testimony in criminal trials. 

Problems with eyewitness lineup procedures 

There are several factors that can affect the outcome of an eyewitness lineup. For example, the lineup administrator may inadvertently lead the witness to choose a certain person by making comments regarding the case. 

Furthermore, the organization of the lineup can play a role in who the witness chooses. If the suspect has a tattoo and a beard, there should be more than one person in the lineup with those characteristics. 

How to prevent eyewitness misidentification 

Certain law enforcement departments across the country have placed restrictions and rules on lineups in an attempt to minimize the chance for errors: 

  • The lineup administrator must be blind to the case and have no prior knowledge of it. 
  • The lineup should be properly organized, with more than one person matching the suspect’s general description. 
  • The lineup administrator must follow a script so he or she does not make any misleading comments. 
  • The administrator should let the witness know that the suspect may or may not be present in the lineup. 
  • The administrator should record the entire procedure for later review by the judge if necessary. 

Eyewitness memory limitations and other factors also play a role in choosing the right suspect from a lineup. Even with regulations in place, it is possible for any witness to make a mistaken identification.