When a witness fingers a suspect, they aren’t always accurate. As a matter of fact, many cases that are later found to be wrongful convictions involve a mistaken eyewitness identification. In an effort to reduce the number of mistakes and to improve the process by which witnesses choose suspects, the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services is changing its policies.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the state changed their procedures in 2005, requiring all departments to have a written eyewitness identification procedure in place. But they allowed the various law enforcement departments to decide exactly what those policies would be. Now, things won’t be quite so permissive.
All departments within the state are now required to use double-blind identification lineups. This means the police official walking a witness through the id process doesn’t know the suspect, so they aren’t unintentionally influencing their choice.
The state agency is also developing a training program to educate all officers on the best eyewitness identification standards.
You would think if you saw a crime that it would be simple to remember the face of the perpetrator. But, it is not. Numerous things like how a lineup is presented, the race of the perpetrator, how the photographs look, and your mindset at the time can all play a role in your identification.
There are cases upon cases of innocent people ending up in prison for crimes they didn’t commit on account of a flawed eyewitness identification. Human memory is fallible.
One woman, profiled by the Wall Street Journal, identified her assailant in a photo lineup in which he was the only color photograph. In the physical lineup, that same suspect was the only one present from the photo lineup.
The crime occurred in 1982. Someone else confessed to the crime in 1988. But the original suspect wouldn’t be exonerated until 2002, after finishing his 15 year prison sentence.
Despite the fallible nature of human memory and the data that shows just how unreliable eyewitness identifications can be, they remain very convincing to both judges and juries. If someone identifies you as their attacker, there’s a good chance a jury will believe them.
If you are accused of a crime, and there are witnesses that say you did it, you need the assistance of a local criminal defense attorney.
Contact our offices today. Whether you are accused of assault or a fraud offense, we may be able to help.