Eyewitness identification errors lead to wrongful convictions in MA

Inaccurate eyewitness identification is the product of several common factors that may lead to the wrongful incarceration of an innocent person.

Receiving a sentence of life in prison is extremely devastating, especially if the person being convicted has not committed a crime. Although it may be hard to believe, innocent people have been sent to prison as a result of eyewitness misidentification, false confessions, informants and improper use of forensic science. According to the Innocence Project, the most common cause for wrongful convictions in the United States is false eyewitness testimony or identification, which is a factor in 72 percent of DNA exonerations in America. Whether a witness chooses the wrong photograph out of a lineup or cannot remember the perpetrator's facial details, a small mistake can lead to harsh penalties and forever affect the life of an innocent person.

This is exactly what happened to a Massachusetts man, who was sentenced to life in 1984 for the rape of three women. The Innocence Project reports that approximately 19 years later, the man was let free after DNA evidence found from the victims' clothing revealed that he was not the perpetrator. All three women had chosen the wrong man in a photo lineup, which ultimately led to his wrongful conviction.

Factors in eyewitness misidentification

There are many factors that can lead an innocent person to be convicted of a crime. According to the American Bar Association, the most common factors include:

  • Improper lineups: Many states have strict regulations on how lineups should be conducted in order to minimize error. The person who is administering the lineup should be unaware of the suspect's identity, in order to prevent them from giving any inadvertent physical or verbal hints. Lineups should also be taped so that officials can review them for accuracy.
  • High stress: Witnesses who are subjected to a high amount of stress are less likely to remember key details of the situation. This is especially true when weapons are present.
  • Environmental variables: The amount of light that is present when the crime took place, as well as how far away the witness was standing can contribute to the reliability of the statement. It is also crucial to note whether the perpetrator was wearing a mask or disguise.
  • Racial disparities: Studies show that the accuracy of a witness's identification is compromised if the perpetrator is a different race than their own.

The amount of time that elapsed from when the crime occurred to the date of the trial can alter the witness's testimony as well. According to a study published by PBS.org, researchers found that witnesses have a tendency to unintentionally alter their testimony as further details of the crime emerge. They may also be more likely to change their initial perception of what happened to match their own personal beliefs.

When to contact an attorney

People who face criminal charges may encounter serious consequences if they are accused of a crime. An aggressive defense attorney can help fight for your rights and ensure that your case is fairly represented.

Keywords: eyewitness, identification, arrest, charges