Juries often find eyewitness identification evidence to be highly persuasive in the courtroom. While such evidence might seem to confirm that the defendant was the individual who committed a particular offense, the system of identifying suspects is deeply flawed from a criminal justice perspective. In fact, inaccurate eyewitness IDs are a leading cause of wrongful convictions in the United States.
Despite specific protocols and guidelines officers should follow, wrongful identifications still happen, are admitted in court, and lead to wrongful convictions. If you were wrongfully convicted, a Michigan wrongful conviction attorney can stand up for you.
Risks of Eyewitness Identification in Criminal Cases
Eyewitness identifications can be highly unreliable and have contributed to numerous wrongful convictions. This phenomenon arises from various factors, including the following.
Memory Decay and Distortion
The passage of time between the event and identification can lead to memory decay, making it harder for witnesses to accurately recall details. High-stress situations, such as crimes or accidents, can also impair memory formation and lead to distorted recollections.
Studies show that individuals may have difficulty accurately identifying individuals of a different race, which can lead to misidentifications, particularly in racially diverse societies.
Leading Questions and Suggestions
Biased lineup procedures are too prevalent during identifications. Law enforcement practices, intentionally or unintentionally, can influence eyewitnesses towards a particular identification. Further, even well-meaning officers may engage in confirmation bias when they inadvertently signal who they suspect is the perpetrator, influencing the witness’s choice.
Misinformation and Post-Event Information
Exposure to new information or media coverage after an event can alter a witness’s memory. They may incorporate this post-event information into their recollection.
Stress and Weapon Focus
In high-stress situations, individuals tend to focus on the weapon or threat rather than the perpetrator’s identity. This can lead to inaccurate identifications.
Anxiety and Fear
Witness anxiety and fear during a traumatic event can impair their ability to make accurate identifications.
In a lineup, the presence of a distinctive feature in one individual (such as unique clothing) can bias the selection.
Disguises or Altered Appearances
Perpetrators may alter their appearance after an event, making it harder for witnesses to make accurate identifications.
Multiple Eyewitnesses and Group Dynamics:
If multiple witnesses are present, they may rely on each other’s identifications, potentially reinforcing errors.
Confidence and Feedback
Witnesses may feel pressured to make an identification, leading to false confidence. Additionally, feedback from law enforcement can inadvertently reinforce an inaccurate identification.
Given these inherent challenges, the legal system should approach eyewitness identifications with caution. However, officers often fail to use best practices when conducting lineups or other identifications, leading to false IDs. Then, juries find this evidence particularly persuasive, especially if they are not informed of the many risks of inaccurate identification.
A Michigan Wrongful Conviction Lawyer Ready to Help
If you or a loved one was wrongfully convicted based on a witness identification or other inaccurate evidence, there are critical legal options, but you need the right representation. Seek help from Mueller Law Firm today.