Are Current Eyewitness Identification Procedures Leading to Wrongful Convictions?
The United States criminal justice system prides itself on being fair and just. Even if it is one of the best systems in existence, it is not flawless. Wrongful convictions continue to occur despite existing safeguards aimed at limiting wrongful convictions. According to the Global Registry of Claims of Innocence, approximately 15% of inmates claim to be innocent nationwide (2014). Based on exoneration rates, of the 15% claiming innocence between one and five percent of inmates are truly innocent (Global Registry of Claims of Innocence, 2014). Several factors prevent wrongfully convicted individuals from proving his or her innocence. Inaccurate eyewitness identification is the most common element in all-wrongful convictions. Consistent reform of eyewitness identification procedures nationwide would decrease wrongful conviction rates. The cost for housing one inmate in a minimum-security federal prison is approximately $21,000 per year while the cost for housing one inmate in a maximum-security prison is approximately $33,000 per year. With incarceration rates, more than four times what they were in 1980, prisons are overcrowded, and the financial burdens fall on taxpayers (Klein & Soltas, 2013). Although these costs are high, they are not as high as the costs resulting from a wrongful conviction. In 2011, an investigation conducted by The Better Government Association determined that taxpayers in Illinois have paid approximately $214 million since 1976 because of 85 wrongful convictions (2014). Increased awareness of causes of wrongful convictions, as well as awareness of factors that prevent exonerations would reduce wrongful convictions. The proposed research uses the following definitions for wrongful conviction and exonerate. “Wrongful conviction refers to a person accused of a crime which as a result of subsequent investigation proves erroneous” (Duhaime, 2014). According to US Legal, “exonerate refers to a state where a person convicted of a crime is later proved to be innocent” (USLegal, 2014). For the purpose of this research study, exoneration will only refer to individuals that are fully relieved of all previous charges and will not include sentence reductions or individuals released as a result of a legal technicality. Eyewitness identification refers to a witness "who has actually seen an event and can so testify in court" (USLegal, 2014). The problem of wrongful convictions includes a wide range of factors, which may contribute to a person being wrongfully convicted; this research will only focus on eyewitness identification methods. Another limitation on this proposed research is that there will not be a person present to answer questions to ensure proper understanding of the questions to obtain the most accurate results. Additionally, the surveys allow for subjective responses, which can be difficult to trend without interpretation to the researchers. To determine if consistent reformation of current eyewitness identification methods will decrease wrongful convictions rates, the research will include the use of qualitative and quantitative studies. The proposed method to collect data for this research includes archival research of existing data and studies in conjunction with online surveys completed by employees of the Innocence Project, questionnaires completed by exonerated individuals, and questionnaires completed by individuals currently incarcerated but claiming innocence. The information will provide quantitative data to analyze and reveal areas of opportunity within the criminal justice system. Additionally, information obtained from current employees of the Innocence Project will provide qualitative data that will assist in understanding some of the most common barriers that prevent convicted individuals from proving their claim of innocence. The combination...
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