Eyewitness Misidentification

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Typically when a crime is committed one of the first questions that an investigator solicits becomes if there may have been anyone in the area of the crime at the time the crime occurred that would be able to identify the person responsible for the crime.

Eyewitnesses have historically been asked to identify the perpetrator by “placing a suspect among people not suspected of committing the crime” (Schuster, B. 2007). This procedure is called a lineup. The drawbacks to using eyewitness accounts to help ascertain the identity of suspected criminals are numerous. The lineup relies on the memory and perception of the witness who may have been under extreme stress during the time of the crime making it difficult for the witness to recall certain facts about the suspect. Often time the witness may have difficulty making out the exact description of a suspect due to the circumstances surrounding the crime such as the weather, the time of day, the distance between the witness and the suspect. In addition to these obstructions a glitch can also be found in the way the lineup is administered. The official in charge of administering the lineup usually knows which of the individuals the suspect is therefore, several variables can affect the responses of the witness. The overseer of the line up may suggestively cause the witness to question his or her responses or recollection of the perpetrator either consciously or unconsciously by changing the tone of his or her voice or by making such statements as “just take your time…make sure you look at all the photos” (Schuster, B. 2007) when a witness starts to lean towards choosing a “filler” or an individual other than the suspect.

Given that “eyewitness misidentification is the single greatest cause of wrongful convictions” (The Innocence Project, 1999) an immediate response is necessary in order for the criminal justice system make changes to lower if not eliminate the number of wrongful convictions that occur...
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