Lineup misidentification: A serious problem

When people in California are charged with a crime, they may appear in a physical or photo eyewitness lineup. Although this form or suspect identification is still being used in many states in the nation, it has shown to provide unreliable results. Lineup procedures, as well as limitations of the human memory, have made it rather common for the wrong person to be chosen from the lineup. This may lead to wrongful convictions when this information is used as evidence in court. In some states, strict procedures have been put in place.

According to the Innocence Project, 358 people in the United States have been released from prison after DNA evidence showed they were innocent of committing a crime. Approximately 70 percent of these cases involved witnesses choosing the wrong person from a lineup. Once a person is identified, it can be extremely hard to convince a judge and jury that he or she did not commit a crime.

In a study performed before a panel of jurors, a man convicted of robbery and theft was standing trial. In the first situation, the jury was presented circumstantial evidence and no eyewitnesses named him as the suspect. In the second situation, the same evidence was presented, but a simple eyewitness named the suspect. While 18 percent of juror found the man guilty of robbery in the first situation, a surprising 72 percent of the jurors found him guilty in the situation involving the eyewitness.

Many issues lead to eyewitness misidentification, including errors in the physical lineup process, organizational problems and human error.

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