Eyewitness identification and wrongful incrimination

Not everyone who is currently sitting behind bars in Kentucky is guilty of committing a crime. A surprising number of people in jail are victims of wrongful conviction, caused by bad lawyering, improper forensic testing, government misconduct, false confessions or bad informants. The number one cause of erroneous incarceration, however, stems from eyewitness misidentification. According to the Innocence Project, 346 people have been released from prison after further investigations found them innocent. Of these cases, 70 percent involved eyewitness misidentification.

Eyewitness misidentification occurs when a victim or witness selects the wrong person from a physical or photo lineup. Numerous studies have shown how the results of these lineups are unreliable, as there are several factors that can lead to the wrong person being named as a suspect. Regardless of these findings, law enforcement departments continue to use this form of identification as admissible evidence in criminal cases.

The problems in the lineup process range from lineup administrator coercion to improper organization of the lineup. For example, if the suspect was reported to have long hair and an arm tattoo, there should be more than one person in the lineup matching these characteristics. In some cases, these lineups are not set up in that way, and an innocent person is chosen as the suspect.

Limitations in the human memory have also lead to bad lineup choices. It is difficult for people to remember detailed facial characteristics of a person they came into contact with weeks, months or even years ago. Furthermore, the witness may have had limited vision of the person at the time of the crime. This is especially true when a person is under severe stress or is choosing a suspect that is of a different race than their own. 

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