People in New York should know that the way courts view evidence is changing. It used to be that eyewitness testimony was a great way for prosecutors to secure a conviction. Having someone who saw a crime occur identify the suspect was one of the best ways to convince a jury of that suspect’s guilt. Recent advances in science show that eyewitnesses are not as reliable as they were once thought to be.
Many identifications are no good
Studies and real-world experience show that eyewitness identifications are, often, no good. Many police departments nationwide have been misled by inaccurate suspect descriptions. More disturbingly, in about 280 wrongful convictions that were overturned by DNA evidence, eyewitness identifications led to the conviction of the wrong person. Eyewitness testimony can lead to serious violations of innocent Americans’ civil rights.
Lineups can be problematic
When police bring in witnesses to look at suspect lineups, the process is flawed. Often, the cop conducting the lineup knows which person is the suspect. It’s possible that, even when these officers mean well, they may be unintentionally indicating what they know to the witness. Some corrupt cops may even try to signal directly. A better solution would be to ensure that officers outside the case are always the ones who run lineups.
Another problem is that, sometimes, eyewitnesses believe they must pick someone from the lineup. This is inaccurate. If they don’t see the person they witnessed commit the crime, the best course of action is to not pick someone in the lineup. Giving eyewitnesses full instructions making this clear is another best practice that should be implemented by policing agencies across the country. For any suspect, it’s crucial to retain an experienced criminal defense attorney who knows of these issues.