False eyewitness identification may lead to wrongful convictions

Eyewitness misidentification has led to the wrongful arrest and conviction of innocent people in Virginia and across the country.

People who have been found guilty of sexual assault may be sentenced to spend time in the Virginia state prison system. However, not everyone convicted of a crime is actually guilty. False eyewitness identification is responsible for sending hundreds of innocent people to prison. According to the Innocence Project, 329 people have been released from their prison sentences and pronounced innocent after extensive testing of DNA evidence. Of these cases, approximately 75 percent involved eyewitnesses who had wrongfully identified an innocent person as the perpetrator. These surprising statistics have led many Americans to seek more answers regarding the flawed eyewitness identification process.

An innocent man was made to spend time in prison, register as a sex offender and relinquish his rights to vote because of a false identification made by a rape victim. Although the man did not match the victim's initial description, she had picked him out of a photo lineup and three live lineups. The then 22-year-old man also suffered from brittle bone disease, making it highly unlikely that he would have been able to physically assault the woman. DNA testing finally proclaimed the man innocent of the crime, nearly 35 years after he was found guilty.

Why eyewitness identification is unreliable

Not only are there flaws in the eyewitness lineup process, but studies show that the human memory can make mistakes when it comes to identifying the suspect of a crime. The American Bar Association lists the following reasons why eyewitness identification should not be allowed as credible evidence in some court trials.

  • Disorganized lineups: Poorly organized lineups may contain only one person that meets the suspect's description, even though that person may be innocent.
  • Lineup administrators: When the lineup administrator knows specific details about the case, they could unintentionally provide cues that prompt the witness to choose a certain suspect.
  • Lineup wording: Witnesses should be told that the suspect may or may not be present in the lineup. Administrators should also avoid making comments once the witness has made his or her choice.
  • Environmental issues: The amount of lighting that was present at the scene of the crime and other critical details of the crime may influence a person's ability to make an accurate identification.

Studies also show that if the perpetrator of the crime used a weapon or wore a mask, the identification is less likely to be accurate.

Partnering with an attorney

People who face sexual assault charges in Virginia may feel overwhelmed at the prospects of spending time in prison. Some people may turn to a criminal defense attorney in order to explore all of their legal options. An attorney may be able to walk you through the legal process and ensure that all of your rights are upheld in a Virginia court of law.

Keywords: eyewitness, testimony, false, confession