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Eyewitness identification: When an innocent person is convicted

Errors in the eyewitness identification process can lead to wrongful incarceration of innocent people.

Countless people currently sit behind bars, even though they are innocent of committing a crime. Although wrongful incarceration is not a new concept in Alabama or across the United States, more people are being released from their prison sentences after DNA evidence has proven their innocence. According to the Innocence Project, 350 people have now been exonerated from their criminal convictions after proven innocent through DNA evidence. While there are many factors that lead to wrongful imprisonment, eyewitness misidentification is the most common contributing factor. At least 70 percent of overturned cases involve eyewitness misidentification.

The weight of eyewitness identification in courtroom trials

Identification made by an eyewitness places a suspect at the crime scene. Even if there is no other supporting physical evidence, an eyewitness testimony alone can lead a jury to declare a person guilty of a crime. Researchers looked at how jurors respond to eyewitness testimony by presenting them with a robbery-murder case where only circumstantial evidence was given. In this case, a mere 18 percent of jurors found the defendant guilty of the crime. In the second scenario, jurors were presented with the exact same case, yet they added the testimony of a single eyewitness. Interestingly enough, 72 percent of jurors came back with a guilty conviction in this case. This study shows first-hand how innocent people can easily be convicted of a crime they did not commit.

Flaws in the process

How does this injustice occur? Lineup administrators may make comments during the process that could unintentionally influence the witness’s decision. For example, if witnesses are looking at the lineup and the administrator asks them to take another look at suspect three, they may be more likely to choose that person from the lineup. Furthermore, lineups that are organized improperly may lead witnesses to choose a different person than they may have picked otherwise. It is crucial that lineups have more than one person that match the victim’s description. If there is only one person with a mustache and beard, which are listed in the victim’s description, that person may be chosen whether or not he or she is guilty.

Justice is served

If you have been charged with a crime, you may want to consider obtaining counsel from an experienced defense attorney. You may be overwhelmed, scared and stressed at the possible outcome of the case. An attorney may be helpful in making the crucial decisions that may could affect the rest of your life.

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Joel L. Sogol, Attorney at Law

811 Almon Avenue
Tuscaloosa, AL 35401



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