Is Eyewitness Identification Reliable?

Is Eyewitness Identification ReliableWatch any police or crime drama long enough, and you will probably see a classic police lineup. A supposed eyewitness to a crime stands in a small room with a detective or police officer. On the other side of a one-way mirror, suspects file into the room and stand in a row so the witness can identify which person is responsible for the crime.

In other scenes, a crime victim or witness to a crime looks over a row of suspect photos. It’s a common enough scenario, but does it work? Studies show that eyewitness misidentification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions.

If you have been charged with a crime in Maryland, don’t wait to speak to a criminal defense lawyer about your case.

The Problems with Eyewitness Identification

According to the Innocence Project, over 70 percent of overturned wrongful convictions involve eyewitness misidentification. Furthermore, criminal defense experts have questioned the reliability of eyewitness identification in criminal cases since as early as 1907, when a Harvard psychologist examined the inherent flaws of using eyewitnesses to identify criminal suspects.

There are many factors that contribute to the unreliability of police lineups. Chief among the problems with eyewitness identification is the fickle nature of the human brain, and particularly our ability to recall events. The human memory is fallible, and people tend to forget details over time. People are also more likely to misremember moments of high stress, such as when they are involved in a robbery or sexual assault, or a situation in which a suspect has a weapon.

Push to Standardize Police Lineups

Experts also say that the way police conduct lineups plays a significant role in their reliability. According to the American Bar Association (ABA), research shows that witnesses incorrectly identify a suspect in a photo lineup about 25 percent of the time.

Astonishingly, witnesses select an innocent person more than one-third of the time, even when they are told beforehand that the suspect may not even be included in the lineup.

To combat these problems, the ABA suggests police departments take steps to control factors that can influence witnesses. For example, police departments should use photos with similar lighting and of a similar size in photo lineups.

They should also use double-blind lineups, which means the officer conducting the lineup does not know which individual is the suspect – a practice shown to cut down on officers inadvertently making suggestions or giving away clues about which person in the lineup is the suspect.

In photo lineups, studies show that people tend to make more misidentifications when they are shown more than six photos at a time. Police should also avoid giving positive post-identification or praise, as telling a witness he or she did a “good job” or “nice work” makes them more likely to repeat misidentifications at trial.

Unfortunately, witness misidentification has led to several heartbreaking stories of individuals spending years in prison for crimes they did not commit. In 2014, a Texas man was exonerated after spending more than 12 years in prison for a rape he did not commit. DNA testing eventually confirmed that the victim, who pointed him out in a police photo lineup, misidentified him as her attacker.

Speak to a Rockville Criminal Defense Lawyer about Your Case

If you are facing criminal charges, you can’t afford to forego experienced criminal defense. Speak to a Rockville, Maryland criminal defense lawyer today about your case. The Law Office of Leon Geller offers free consultations. Schedule yours today.

Can the Police Search My House Without a Warrant?