Eyewitness identification may be unreliable in a criminal case

Eyewitness misidentification can yield inaccurate results; however, it is often used as evidence in criminal court trials.

Although eyewitness testimony and identifications are given substantial weight in a criminal trial, studies show that these types of evidence are often unreliable and may lead to the wrongful conviction of an innocent person. According to the Innocence Project, 330 people have been released from their prison sentences after DNA evidence proved that they were not guilty of the crime that they were convicted of committing. At least five of these cases were in Michigan. Countless more victims of eyewitness misidentification wait behind bars for someone to discover their innocence.

One Michigan man was erroneously chosen out of a lineup and was wrongfully identified from a composite sketch. As a result, the 43-year-old man spent nine years in prison before forensic testing proved that he was innocent of the crime. Although he did not match the rape victim's initial description of her attacker, she selected him from the lineup.

The power of eyewitness testimony

A study published by PBS.org reported that juries are more likely to find a defendant guilty of a crime if eyewitness testimony is involved in the trial. Researchers organized a case where circumstantial evidence was presented to a jury regarding a robbery-murder trial. Approximately 18 percent of the jurors found the defendant guilty. During the second scenario, an eyewitness identification was presented to the jury in addition to the same circumstantial evidence given in the first case. Surprisingly, 72 percent of the jurors found the defendant guilty, largely in part to the eyewitness testimony.

Suggestion and organization

Eyewitness misidentification is one of the most common factors leading to wrongful conviction in the U.S. The Innocence Project reported that flaws in lineup procedures may result in the wrong person being named as a suspect. According to the American Bar Association, lineup administrators may unintentionally give hints to witnesses as they are reviewing potential suspects in a lineup. Lineups should be administered by people who have no prior information about the details of the crime.

Lineups that are not organized properly may also decrease the accuracy and reliability of the identified suspect. For example, if the perpetrator was said to have a tattoo or was wearing a hat at the time the crime was committed, there should be more than one person included in the lineup who has a tattoo or is wearing a hat.

How an attorney may help your case

Being accused of committing a violent crime and facing criminal charges can be overwhelming. This is especially true if you are innocent of the charges. If you find yourself in a similar situation, you may want to seek the legal counsel of a criminal attorney in Michigan. A lawyer can listen to the details surrounding your case and help you explore your options.


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