The Dangers of Eyewitness Identification

Why might some eyewitness testimonies be unreliable?

Eyewitness testimony is often among the most convincing evidence to be presented at trial. In some 75,000 cases across the nation, eyewitness testimony is the crux of the case.  While eyewitness testimony has long been considered convincing, scientific advances have called into question the reliability of this common type of evidence. In fact, false eyewitness testimony is now widely considered the number one cause of wrongful convictions.  Our West Palm Beach criminal defense lawyers explore the dangers of eyewitness testimony and how you can contest the eyewitness evidence presented against you below.

Eyewitness Testimony Is Often Unreliable

In a study conducted by the University of Virginia Law School, it was discovered that eyewitness misidentifications contributed to at least 76 percent of cases later overturned by DNA evidence.  Researchers have identified several causes of false eyewitness identifications, with potential confounding factors including:

  • The presence of a gun
  • Poor lighting
  • Misleading photo arrays or lineups, both intentional and unintentional
  • The speed of the crime
  • The fact that the perpetrator is of a different race than the witness

In order to prevent misidentifications, states have revised their rules for police practice.  Police should conduct double blind lineups, with an officer who is not familiar with the suspect or a lead in the investigation conducting the lineup.  Photo arrays should be presented sequentially and officers should never inject comments as the witness views the photos. Lineups must be carefully composed of individuals that resemble the person the eyewitness described.  Lastly, a confidence statement should be immediately taken following the array or lineup.

Challenging Eyewitness Testimony

Even with proper police protocol, the dangers of eyewitness testimony still exist.  If you have been accused of a crime based on eyewitness misidentification, there are steps you can take to challenge this evidence.  If the eyewitness knew the defendant, one method might be to disclose the animosity that exists between the two. If the defendant is not known to the eyewitness, challenges may focus on questioning the witness’ vision and memory.  A good defense lawyer may point out obstructions or challenges to the eyewitness’ view, such as poor lighting or a limited view. Your lawyer may further probe the witness’ emotional state and how that could have negatively impacted his or her identification.

Contact Herman Law, P.A. for more information on the dangers of eyewitness identification.