Understanding the fallacies in Florida eyewitness testimonies

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Eyewitness misidentification has led to the wrongful incarceration of countless people, some of which have been released due to DNA evidence.

According to the Innocence Project, there are 318 stories of people who were wrongfully convicted of a crime, and later set free after DNA evidence proved their innocence. Many others remain in prison, hoping that one day they will also be set free. Eyewitness misidentification played a role in approximately 72 percent of cases that were later exonerated through DNA testing. With these alarming statistics, Florida officials and other law enforcement agencies across the country are searching for solutions to this upsetting problem.

In 1974, a young teenage boy was tried and convicted for the rape of a 9-year-old Florida boy, according to the Innocence Project. The teenager was erroneously chosen from a photograph lineup. After serving 35 years in prison, the now 54-year-old man was finally released after DNA evidence proved that he was innocent of the crime. The real perpetrator has yet to be found.

The problems with eyewitness testimony

Eyewitness testimony is solely dependent upon the accuracy of the witness's memory, vision and ability to recollect minute details of the crime scene. Yet many studies show that people who are under extreme stress are highly unlikely to remember specific details of the event. According to the American Bar Association, there are many factors that can distort a person's perception or recollection of an experience. Some of these factors include:

  • Power of suggestion: The human mind is highly susceptible to suggestion. New details of a case can actually change a person's view of what occurred, as many people will unintentionally change the events of the incident to align with their personal beliefs or prejudices. People who are conducting the lineup can also inadvertently suggest that one person may be to blame.
  • Weapon being used: Victims are more likely to forget key details of an incident when a weapon is being used during the crime.
  • Elapsed time from the incident: Some trials take place years after the incident occurred. During this time, a witness's memory of the event can change dramatically.
  • Poor conditions: Whether the crime occurred in poor lighting or the perpetrator wore a disguise, poor conditions can contribute to a misidentification.
  • Racial disparities: People are less likely to accurately identify a person if they are of a different race than their own, as reported by the Innocence Project.

Although there are some factors that the system cannot manipulate, including poor memory, there are others, such as proper lineup procedure, which may help to reduce the occurrence of misidentification in a criminal case.

Contact an attorney

People who face criminal charges may want to enlist the legal assistance of an established criminal defense attorney. Although the charges you face may be intimidating, a knowledgeable lawyer can help explore your options and ultimately maximize the outcome of your case.

Keywords: eyewitness, identification, false, arrest