In recent years, there’s been a lot of scrutiny on eyewitness testimony and identifications, and not just in New Jersey. The figures are starting to show that things like lineup identifications are less accurate than previous generations believed. In fact, inaccurate eyewitness testimony is a factor in over half the convictions that the Innocence Project has helped overturn with DNA evidence.
The psychology of identification
Even before organizations like the Innocence Project existed, some researchers were able to show the limits of eyewitness testimony. The implications of the instructions a witness are given is very important, for example. In one college classroom experiment, some students were given instructions that made it seem they had to pick a suspect from the lineup. Others were not. The wording affected how they proceeded to complete the task.
These things matter. The truth is that not every lineup will have a picture of the actual suspect. Sometimes, people make bad identifications because they believe the suspect must be in there. So instead of looking for an exact match, they settle for the person who looks the most similar. This miscommunication during the instruction phase can have devastating consequences for that person’s life. Simply by making it clear the suspect may not be in the lineup, officers can help prevent false convictions. Today, most criminal defense lawyers know of this problem. They know there are ways to defend against it.
If you or a loved one has been the victim of a false identification, it’s important to get legal advice. Contacting an experienced attorney is the best first step. They may be able to help you understand what went wrong, and make a plan about how to solve the problem.