Preventing Eyewitness Misidentification
With eyewitness misidentification playing a role in nearly 75 percent of convictions overturned through DNA testing, it is evident that eyewitness testimony can have severe flaws and that proper steps should be taken to avoid future mistakes.
Al Jazeera America reported that best practices endorsed by the Innocence Project, such as the double-blind procedure in which the police officer administering a photo or live lineup is not aware of the identity of the suspect, have started to be adopted by law enforcement agencies across the country.
Jennifer Dysart, a John Jay College of Criminal Justice professor and expert in eyewitness identification, told Al Jazeera America, “My experience is, when you explain to law enforcement why these are best practices, they understand completely. Law enforcement wants to do a good job. And they want to get the right guy.”
Despite reforms being adopted in Connecticut, Oregon, Maryland, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Texas, North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin, there is still resistance from America’s largest municipal force, New York City’s Police Department.
“The NYPD is not using best practices. It’s been very frustrating for many people who are trying to reduce mistakes that eyewitnesses make,” Dysart said.
Innocence Project Communications Director Paul Cates said this process is fraught with the possibility of misidentification. “The problem with this is that, once someone has picked a photo out of a photo lineup, there is a tendency for their memory to become tainted — so that they are going to pick the [physical] person whose photo they [had already] selected,” Cates said.
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