Issues with Eyewitness Identification

Across the U.S. issues are arising from witness identification.

There are two main misidentifications, inaccurate recall and memory contamination. Even if the eyewitness claims they are absolutely certain which suspect is the assailant, human memory and visual perception make eyewitness testimony unreliable. Post-event information can also impact eyewitness recall, making it unreliable.

The impact of misidentification

It is estimated that eyewitness misidentification had a role in over two-thirds of the overturned DNA convictions nationwide. Eyewitness testimony is very persuasive to a jury because most eyewitnesses truly believe that they are correctly identifying the suspect.

The eyewitness recall may be affected by the trauma, causing inaccurate recall. Memory contamination is usually due to suspect images the eyewitness has been shown. Some researchers believe that eyewitness testimony would be more reliable if the eyewitness was only shown one suspect at a time in a line-up, instead of comparing the suspects.

Accurate eyewitness testimonies are helpful

Despite these challenges the eyewitness faces when recalling the trauma, many violent offenders are accurately identified from eyewitness testimony. When a suspect is accurately identified, they are brought to justice—it is a victory for the community.

The issue only arises when eyewitnesses misidentify the suspect and the suspect becomes wrongfully accused—and often convicted—based on this testimony.

Because of these issues, eyewitness testimony should not be the only piece of evidence convicting a suspect of a crime. Instead, it should be just one of many pieces of evidence that lead to the conviction of a suspect.

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