Eyewitness identification errors lead to wrongful convictions in WI

Errors in the eyewitness identification process can result in the wrongful conviction of an innocent person.

Since the first exoneration using DNA evidence that took place in 1989, 321 people in the United States have been released from their wrongful criminal convictions, according to the Innocence Project. Approximately 254 of those exonerations took place within the last 14 years, and countless more are currently waiting to be discovered. Wrongful conviction is a direct result of a flawed U.S. judicial system that relies in part, on eyewitness identification, faulty forensic science practices, informants and aggressive interrogation procedures to find people guilty of violent crimes. Eyewitness misidentification alone played a role in 72 percent of all DNA exonerations in the U.S. Why are innocent people in Wisconsin and around the country being wrongfully accused of crimes they didn't commit?

What causes an eyewitness to identify the wrong suspect?

According to the American Bar Association, eyewitness misidentification is caused by defects in both the judicial system and human perception. Some of the most common include:

  • Poorly organized physical and photo lineups.
  • Unintentional feedback from the lineup administrator. When the person conducting the lineup knows who the primary suspect is, he or she may unknowingly lead the eyewitness.
  • The amount of time that has elapsed between the eyewitness identification process and when the actual crime took place. Studies show that as time passes, the human memory can forget, change or adapt certain details of the crime.
  • The race of the people involved. People are more likely to wrongfully identify a person who is a different race than their own, according to the Innocence Project.
  • Whether a weapon was used in the crime. Studies suggest that the human brain is unable to remember specific details of events that are extremely stressful, especially those where a deadly weapon has been used.

Certain environmental factors of a crime, such as the amount of lighting present at the time the crime was committed, if the suspect was wearing a mask or how far away the eyewitness was from the suspect, can influence the identification process.

Improving lineup methods

Although law enforcement cannot control the human mind and its ability to remember details of a crime, it can ensure that people are treated fairly throughout the identification process. Double-blind eyewitness lineups, or lineups where the administrator is unaware of the primary suspect's identity, can help to prevent any suggestive verbal or non-verbal hints.

The lineup should be carefully constructed of people who have similar characteristics. For example, if the suspect was said to have had a moustache, more than one person in the lineup should also have a moustache. The entire process should also be recorded to ensure that the procedure was carried out correctly.

Finding an attorney

A knowledgeable attorney who can provide vital legal assistance is an essential part of any criminal defense case. Whether you feel you have been wrongfully accused of a crime or there are different elements to your case, a criminal defense attorney can ensure that your rights are upheld throughout the entire legal process.

Keywords: eyewitness, testimony, wrongful, conviction