Brandon Garrett, author of Convicting the Innocent, and Sandra Guerra Thompson, director of the Criminal Justice Institute at the University of Houston Law Center, joined host Kerri Miller on Minnesota Public Radio News on Monday to discuss how states are combatting eyewitness misidentification, which is the leading cause of wrongful convictions.
Miller asked Thompson what inspired certain states, such as New Jersey, to pass laws requiring judges to instruct juries on the fallibility of eyewitness identifications.
“What happened was that a lot of people started getting exonerated and when we went back and did the studies of the kind that Brandon talks about in his book, we discovered that, in the majority of those cases, there was eyewitness identification in which the eyewitnesses simply got it wrong, ” Thompson told Miller.
“People have always known that it’s hard to remember the faces of strangers, and that there are problems with eyewitness memory,” Garrett told Miller. “We entered a period in the 70s where people thought we can make eyewitness identifications more scientific: We can do these line-ups, and we can weed out the people who don’t have much of a memory of what they saw. It turned out those very line-ups that we started relying on to make the whole thing more scientific introduced even more error. Police departments started using line-ups that actually were suggestive, that allowed police to sort of cue which was the suspect they had in mind, so things probably got a lot worse for 20, 30 years.”
The Innocence Project played an integral part in the process that ultimately led to the New Jersey Supreme Court’s landmark decision regarding jury instructions and is working with lawmakers in other states to encourage the adoption of similar practices.
Listen to the full broadcast here.