Not everyone who is convicted of a crime is guilty. There are numerous incidents where people are wrongfully chosen out of an eyewitness identification lineup, and as a result, are convicted of a crime they did not commit. Failures in the eyewitness lineup process are partially to blame for this horrendous error, as well as limitations of the human memory and a jury’s inclination to favor an eyewitness.
In fact, there are many factors that can alter a witness’s ability to choose the correct person from an eyewitness lineup. Some of these include the following:
- Environmental factors, such as lighting and the distance the witness was standing from the perpetrator when the crime occurred
- Whether a weapon was used during the incident
- Whether the perpetrator was of a different race than the witness
- Whether the lineup administrator knew details of the case while performing the lineup process
- The amount of time that elapsed from when the crime occurred until the witness was asked to perform an identification
Flaws in the lineup process can also lead to eyewitness misidentification. If the lineup is not organized properly, it may make the result inaccurate. For example, if the suspect was said to have a beard and a tattoo, there should be more than one person in the lineup matching these characteristics. Furthermore, the process should be taped so a judge can review the process to ensure the proper procedures were followed. According to the Innocence Project, 362 people have been exonerated from their prison sentences after DNA testing showed they were actually innocent. Eyewitness identification was involved in more than 70 percent of those cases.
This information is intended to educate and should not be taken as legal advice.