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Eyewitness misidentification may send innocent people to prison

Eyewitness misidentification has led to the wrongful incrimination of many people, who were later found innocent through the use of DNA evidence.

Contrary to what some Illinois residents may think, not all of the people being held in U.S. prisons are guilty of committing a crime. Since 1989, 325 people have been released from their prison sentences, when DNA evidence proved their innocence, according to the Innocence Project. Approximately 43 of those people were in Illinois prisons. Countless more innocent people may still be locked behind bars. There are several flaws in the U.S. legal system that has led to this injustice. Eyewitness identification remains the number one cause of wrongful incrimination in America.

The facts

Eyewitness misidentification played a role in over 72 percent of the cases that were later overturned through DNA evidence, as reported by the Innocence Project. Although many studies show that eyewitness testimony is extremely unreliable and inaccurate, it is still highly regarded in many criminally legal trials. In some cases, convictions may be based solely on eyewitness identification or testimony, even though it may not be accurate.

Factors affecting eyewitness testimony

There are several factors that can affect an eyewitness's ability to identify the suspect of a crime. Flaws in the lineup process often contribute to a wrongful conviction. Not only is it possible for the lineup administrator to lead the witness with comments or questions, but the way the lineup is organized can also prompt witnesses to choose a specific person. In order to decrease the likelihood that an innocent person will be selected out of a lineup, law enforcement agencies are encouraged to use the following procedures, according to the American Bar Association:

  • Double-blind lineups: These occur when the lineup administrator does not know anything about the case, including the identity of the potential suspect. This prevents the administrator from leading the witness in any way.
  • Proper organization of lineups: The lineup should be organized so that no one person stands out from the others. For instance, if the suspect was said to have a beard, there should be several people in the lineup with beards.
  • Photographic lineups: These lineups should be limited to six pictures. The headshots should also be similar in size and use the same lighting.
  • Lineups should be taped: In order to ensure proper lineup procedures have been used, all lineups should be recorded.

Environmental factors, such as how far the witness was standing from the suspect, the amount of lighting present during the incident and how much time has passed since the crime occurred, can also play a major role in the accuracy of a suspect identification. When a suspect is standing trial for a serious felony, even the smallest mistakes can end in tragedy for an innocent person.

When to seek legal counsel

People who have been charged with a major crime may be overwhelmed at the prospect of spending a significant amount of time in prison. This is especially true if they have been wrongfully accused of a crime. An established criminal law attorney may be extremely helpful to people who wish to form a strong defense. A lawyer may be able to help you explore all of your legal options and ensure your rights are upheld in court.

Keywords: Eyewitness misidentification , eyewitness testimony , legal counsel , serious felony