Wrongful convictions are a grave concern within the criminal justice system. Many different factors contribute to such miscarriages of justice, and mistaken eyewitness identifications are among them.
The human memory is fallible. It is also susceptible to external influences. This makes eyewitness testimony a complex aspect of criminal investigations. It is also an unreliable one.
Memory and vulnerability
Human memory is a remarkable cognitive function. However, this does not always mean it is accurate. Mistaken eyewitness identifications can occur due to the malleability of memory. Stress, trauma and the passage of time can all make memories malleable. The accuracy of eyewitness accounts may suffer as memories are susceptible to distortion. This can lead individuals to misidentify suspects. It can also make them more likely to provide inaccurate details about a crime.
Lineup procedures and suggestibility
The procedures employed during police lineups can impact the accuracy of eyewitness identifications. Sometimes, cues from law enforcement officials can influence witnesses to choose a particular individual. This can occur even if the person is not the actual perpetrator. The suggestibility of eyewitnesses, combined with flawed lineup procedures, can lead to misidentifications. It can also lead to wrongful convictions. Recognizing the pitfalls in lineup protocols helps reduce the risk of incorrect identifications.
The University of Southern California reports that mistaken identifications are the primary cause of wrongful convictions in America. Also, about 70% of overturned convictions in the United States involve eyewitness errors. The prevalence of mistaken eyewitness identifications highlights the need for new procedures. It also warrants a closer look at the role eyewitness testimony plays in investigations.