Martin & Kent, L.L.C. Martin & Kent, L.L.C.

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The problem with eyewitness testimony

Eyewitness testimony can be notoriously unreliable. Research conducted by The Innocence Project, an organization dedicated to identifying and overturning wrongful convictions through DNA testing, has found that eyewitness mistakes have been instrumental in more than 70 percent of such convictions. Eyewitness testimony is unreliable for several reasons.

Psychological factors in eyewitness misidentification

Common psychological reasons why eyewitnesses misidentify crime suspects include the following:

  • It is typical for those witnessing a crime to experience high levels of stress, which can interfere with one's ability to properly process visual information.
  • Witnesses may have personal biases that can cause them to wrongfully identify those in a police lineup.
  • Witnesses may be feeling pressure from law enforcement officers to identify a suspect.

Distractions such as disguises worn by perpetrators or the presence of a weapon at the crime scene can also affect witnesses' ability to correctly identify perpetrators. Reconstructive memory may also play a part in eyewitness misidentification.

How police lineup procedures can help facilitate eyewitness misidentification

Interactions between law enforcement officers and witnesses before, during and after police lineups can also play a role in eyewitness misidentification. Implying that the witness must make a choice, for instance, may result in the wrong person being identified as the perpetrator. Short lineup times may also play a role in someone being wrongfully accused. If law enforcement officers confirm a witness's choice, it can have a significant impact on that person's courtroom testimony. Lineup composition can also affect results - if those in the lineup don't have similar identifying characteristics, personal bias may come into play.

Contact a reputable law firm for more information on how an experienced criminal defense attorney can help you with your case.

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