Understanding eyewitness identification

Eyewitness misidentification is a contributor to a number of cases involving wrongful incarceration.

When people are found guilty by a court of law, people often assume that they have committed a crime and deserve to be incarcerated for their actions. It may be surprising for some to hear, however, that there are a number of people who are currently serving sentences for a crime they did not commit. There are several factors that lead to wrongful incarceration in New York and across the United States. The most common is eyewitness misidentification.

The facts

The Innocence Project reports that since 1992, 350 people have been exonerated from their prison sentences after DNA testing proved they were not involved in the crime they were convicted of committing. Eyewitness misidentification was involved in at least 70 percent of those cases, making it the greatest contributing factor to this injustice.

Flaws in the lineup process

Inconsistencies and flaws in the physical and photo lineup process can cause the wrong person to be chosen as the perpetrator. Comments made by lineup administrators could inadvertently lead the witness to pick a particular person from the lineup. Furthermore, disorganized lineups could make one person stand out from the others. For example, if the perpetrator was said to have a beard and a tattoo, and there is only one person in the lineup matching this description, the witness may be more likely to choose this person.

Other factors can affect the lineup process as well. Gaps in the human memory can prompt people to make wrong choices in the lineup. The time that has elapsed since the crime occurred, the amount of light that was present at the crime scene, whether the perpetrator was wearing a mask and the race of the perpetrator can affect the final decision.

Case in point

One man was convicted of two rapes in Buffalo and served 20 years in prison before DNA tests proved that he did not commit the rapes. Although the man outweighed the suspect mentioned in the victims' description by at least 100 pounds, the victims choose him out of an eyewitness lineup. He also had a prominent scar above his eye, which no one mentioned in their description of the suspect. All three victims picked him from the lineup over a year after the crime took place. Despite the lack of any physical evidence linking the man to the crime, he was convicted and sentenced.

Ensuring justice is served

As an American, you have the right to be treated fairly. You have rights, and you may need someone to ensure your rights are upheld in court. An attorney in New York who handles criminal defense cases may be helpful in investigating details of the case and creating a strong defense.