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Inaccurate eyewitness identification in TN can lead to false imprisonment

Although countless studies and over thirty years of research have proven certain eyewitness identification practices to be unreliable, they are still being used in Hamilton County as evidence in court for criminal law cases. According to the Innocence Project, an organization established to prove the innocence of wrongfully convicted individuals, eyewitness misidentification is responsible for nearly 75 percent of wrongful convictions in the United States, many of them overturned by the results of DNA testing. Yet juries continue to hear eyewitness accounts in criminal cases and are often persuaded by what they hear.

Eyewitness accuracy

Certain details have been shown to affect the accuracy of the eyewitness identification, including the following:

  • Race: Of all the cases of overturned mistaken eyewitness identification, nearly half of those were due to cross-cultural misperceptions. If the person identifying the suspect is of a different race than the suspect, the chances for misidentification increase substantially.
  • Environment: Often times, a crime that is witnessed in poor lighting, crowded conditions or from a distance can make it hard for an individual to make an accurate identification of a suspect.
  • Law enforcement persuasion: Officers may be tempted to steer an individual who is choosing a suspect out of a lineup, toward the suspect. This can influence their decision and contaminate the evidence.
  • Trauma: Victims who underwent a substantial amount of trauma in the midst of the crime, such as having a gun pointed at them, are less likely to remember critical details of the suspect's appearance.
  • Communication: Miscommunication between the individual identifying the suspect, the administrator of the identification process, the lawyers and the courts can lead to incorrect information being presented in court. For instance, if the individual identifying the suspect communicates to the administrator that they are not completely sure of their choice, it may be presented in court that the individual identified the suspect with no hesitation.

Whether victims are choosing suspects from a photo array or a physical lineup, it is crucial that the procedure is handled accurately to avoid accusing the wrong person of the crime.

Ways to reduce error

There are several ways that have been shown to reduce error during eyewitness identification, and include the following:

  • Blind administration: Research shows that the risk for identification error is reduced by having the administrator of the test unaware of who the suspects are.
  • Instructions: The administrator of the test should instruct the individual who is viewing the lineup that the offender may not be present in the lineup.
  • Recordings: The eyewitness identification procedure should be recorded to ensure that it is being carried out properly.
  • Lineup composition: The other people involved in the lineup should have characteristics similar to those reported by the victim of the crime.

Get professional help

If you have been charged with a crime, it is crucial that you contact a reputable and experienced criminal lawyer to assist you with your case. A knowledgeable attorney will ensure that all of your rights are protected.

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