Many people believe that eyewitness identification is a reliable means of identifying perpetrators. However, a closer look at wrongful convictions in the United States reveals a troubling reality. Eyewitness misidentifications are a leading cause of innocent individuals ending up behind bars.
Despite its perceived reliability, eyewitness testimony is susceptible to factors that can contribute to misidentifications. When these misidentifications occur, it can lead to a profound miscarriage of justice.
The illusion of certainty
Eyewitness identifications often carry a weight of certainty in the minds of jurors and investigators. The belief that a witness’s account is infallible often contributes to wrongful convictions. The human memory is not as foolproof as many believe. Instead, various external factors can distort recollections. Stress, fear and the presence of a weapon during a crime are among them. This creates a potential for errors that can have severe consequences. Asking a witness how confident he or she is may help.
Unreliable lineup procedures
The methods used in conducting police lineups can also contribute to mistaken identifications. Traditional lineup procedures can influence the witness’s choice. The use of an innocent person who matches the description of the suspect can lead to false identifications. How law enforcement presents the lineup and the subtle cues given during the process can also impact the witness’s decision-making.
Per Teach Democracy, misidentifications play a role in 52% of wrongful convictions. As the criminal justice system evolves, it becomes more important to refine identification procedures. This reduces the risk of innocent individuals paying the price for flawed testimony.