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Why eyewitness testimony is often inaccurate

On Behalf of | Jun 8, 2020 | Firm News

Many jurors consider eyewitness testimony to be particularly convincing and compelling, but that does not mean it is always accurate. Instead, eyewitness accounts are subject to distortion over time, among other issues, which is problematic given how much of a role these accounts may play in your criminal case.

What are some of the problems associated with eyewitness accounts, and how common is eyewitness misidentification?

Eyewitness misidentification and wrongful convictions

According to the Innocence Project, eyewitness misidentifications lead to wrongful convictions more than any other type of evidence. To date, there have been 360 convictions overturned in the United States due to post-conviction DNA evidence. Of those 360 overturned convictions, more than 70% involved eyewitness misidentifications.

Issues associated with eyewitness accounts

Unfortunately, there are many different issues affecting the accuracy of eyewitness accounts. When a witness identifies a suspect in a traditional lineup, research shows that the party administering the lineup typically knows who the suspect is. The administrator may offer unintentional clues to the witness about his or her identity.

There are also other issues surrounding lineups. When a witness picks a suspect out of an array, he or she may feel pressure to identify someone who appears on the other side of the window, even if that party was not the one the witness saw perform the act in question. Statistics show that this may cause a witness to identify someone in the lineup even if they have doubts about that party’s guilt.

California’s efforts to improve accuracy

California is one of several states that has implemented reforms to help prevent eyewitness misidentification. Such efforts might involve conducting “double-blind lineups,” which are those where neither the witness or administrator knows the identity of the suspect. Asking the witness his or her level of confidence in the eyewitness accounts may also help make these accounts more precise.

While these steps may improve the accuracy of eyewitness accounts to come degree, the fact remains that they are often subject to error. Because so much of your life may depend on the reliability of someone’s memories, it is critical that the justice system take steps to improve the accuracy of eyewitness testimony.