What happens when an eyewitness makes the wrong choice?

On Behalf of | Mar 5, 2020 | Felonies

Eyewitness testimony and identification are extremely influential in criminal trials in South Carolina and across the United States. In one study, two sets of jurors were presented with the same circumstantial evidence regarding a burglary. One set of jurors, however, was also presented with a single eyewitness identification. Only 18% of the jurors presented with the evidence found the defendant guilty, while 72% of jurors came back with a guilty verdict in the eyewitness identification case. Many people do not stop to think that the witness may have picked the wrong suspect from the lineup. 

More than 360 people were released from prison after proven innocent through DNA evidence testing. Of these wrongful convictions, more than 71% involved eyewitness misidentification. Identifying the wrong person from a lineup can lead to wrongful charges and conviction. 

Flaws in the identification process contribute to these errors. According to the Innocence Project, these flaws may include the following: 

  • Disorganized lineups with only one person matching the perpetrator’s identity.  
  • Lineup administrators who inadvertently lead witnesses with verbal and/or physical cues 
  • Lineup administrators do not inform the witness that the suspect may not be in the lineup at all 
  • Lack of audio and/or visual recordings of the lineup event 

Witnesses should also tell administrators how confident they are in their choice. There are a host of environmental factors that can also affect a witness’s ability to choose the correct suspect from a lineup. Factors, such as how much time has elapsed since the crime occurred, whether a weapon was used or how far the witness was standing from the scene of the crime can make a difference in the accuracy of the witness’s choice.