Is eyewitness identification reliable?

The eyewitness identification process may be flawed and in some instances, can lead to the wrongful conviction of an innocent person.

Not everyone who sits behind bars in a North Carolina jail is guilty of committing a crime. Surprisingly, there are instances where people are convicted of a crime they did not commit. The Innocence Project has been involved in 351 exonerations where innocent people were released from prison after evidence found they were wrongfully convicted. In 70% of these cases, eyewitness misidentification was involved in the erroneous decision. Studies show the eyewitness identification process is not always reliable and flaws in the system can actually ruin peoples' lives.

The weight of an eyewitness testimony

Eyewitness testimony plays a large role in whether a jury finds the defendant guilty or not guilty. In one study, researchers presented the jury with circumstantial evidence regarding a robbery-murder. After hearing the evidence, a mere 18 percent of jurors found the defendant guilty of the crime. Another jury was presented the same circumstantial evidence with an added eyewitness testimony, and in this case, 72 percent of the jurors came back with a guilty conviction. This one addition was enough to sway the opinion of 54 percent of the jurors.

Flaws in the identification process

One way that eyewitnesses may be prompted to choose an innocent person from the lineup is leading by the lineup administrator. Unintentional comments or actions made by the administrator may mislead the witness. The witness should also be told that the suspect may or may not be present in the lineup. Furthermore, poorly organized lineups may feature just one person who bears a resemblance to the perpetrator. For example, if the perpetrator is said to have a beard or tattoo, there should more than one person in the lineup that has these characteristics.

All procedures should be recorded so that the footage can be reviewed by both parties and/or the judge presiding over the case. While some law enforcement departments have policies written to ensure lineups are administered by a person who has no former knowledge of the case and that specific scripts are read to avoid error, many states do not have such restrictions in place.

Contacting an attorney

When you are faced with criminal charges, you may feel overwhelmed and not sure of where to turn for answers to your questions. You may want to seek counsel from an attorney in North Carolina who understands how to build a strong criminal defense case while upholding your rights. A criminal defense lawyer may be able to help you get your life back on track. ­