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The role of mistaken identifications in wrongful convictions

On Behalf of | Mar 20, 2023 | Criminal Defense |

Some judges and juries find certain forms of evidence to be more compelling than others. Eyewitness testimony, in particular, helps convict many people charged with criminal offenses across California and the rest of the United States, but research shows that many eyewitness identifications wind up being inaccurate.

The Innocence Project studies just how often mistaken eyewitness identifications lead to wrongful convictions.

How often mistaken identifications occur

Often, imprisoned individuals who have their convictions overturned see that happen after post-conviction DNA evidence reveals that someone else was responsible for the offense in question. Historically, more than 375 people had their convictions overturned across the nation after DNA evidence cleared their names. Of those, 69% received their convictions after eyewitnesses mistakenly identified them as the culprit.

How to improve the accuracy of eyewitness identifications

Some law enforcement agencies across the country are making moves to help improve the accuracy of eyewitness identifications. Many have begun implementing double-blind procedures during lineups. This means that neither the witness or the administrator conducting the lineup knows the identity of the suspect. Others are making a point to tell a witness that a suspect may or may not appear in the lineup they participate in. Others yet are asking witnesses how confident they are in their identifications. Many law enforcement agencies have also begun recording lineup procedures to prove their officers or administrators follow proper protocols.

California is one of many states that has agreed to adopt lineup reforms the Innocence Project recommends using. Currently, about half of all U.S. states have agreed to do this to some degree.