Inaccurate eyewitness IDs can incriminate innocent people

Eyewitness misidentification is a serious problem in the U.S. court system, and flaws in the system have led to the wrongful incarceration of innocent people.

Ohio jails and prisons are filled with people who have broken the law, committed violent crimes and have hurt innocent people in the process. Surprisingly, however, not everyone sitting behind bars may be guilty of committing a crime. In fact, some prisoners may be innocent victims themselves. According to the Innocence Project, at least 330 people have been exonerated from their prison sentences after DNA testing proved that they were wrongfully accused and convicted of a crime. Approximately 10 of these exonerations took place in Ohio. In 70 percent of these cases, inaccurate eyewitness identifications played a significant role in the case.

What causes witnesses to choose the wrong suspect?

There are a myriad of factors that can cause a witness to choose the wrong suspect from a photo or physical lineup. In some cases, witnesses may truly believe that the person that they've chosen as a suspect is guilty of committing the crime, regardless of whether the suspect is guilty or innocent. One reason for this fallibility is the limitations of the human memory. Despite what some people may think, studies show that people do not have the ability to remember certain details of a crime. When people are put under severe stress, they are actually less likely to remember details accurately. Witnesses are also limited in their ability to give accurate descriptions due to the following, according to the American Bar Association:

  • The perpetrator was wearing a mask or disguise
  • There was limited lighting at the crime scene
  • There was a significant distance between the witness and the perpetrator
  • A substantial amount of time has passed from when the crime occurred to when the witness was asked to make an identification
  • A weapon was used during the crime

The Innocence Project also reported that in 40 percent of the cases involving eyewitness misidentification, the witness was a different race than the perpetrator. Studies show that people are often unable to positively identify certain characteristics of people who are of a different race than their own.

Technical flaws in lineup procedures

In addition to human limitations, flawed lineup procedures can also contribute to erroneous eyewitness identifications. People who administer the lineup may inadvertently lead the witness by making comments or giving nonverbal cues. Many states require double-blind lineups, or lineups administered by people who have no prior knowledge of the crime. Some agencies may require the lineup procedures to be taped in order to ensure the proper protocol is being followed.

How can a defense attorney help?

When you have been charged with a serious crime, you may be scared and overwhelmed with the prospect of spending time in prison. A criminal charge can change the course of your life. You may want to discuss the details of your case with a knowledgeable criminal attorney who has a full understanding of the laws in Ohio. Partnering with an established defense lawyer may help the outcome of your case.