When you face a criminal charge and eyewitnesses say they saw what took place, the judge or jury deciding your case may put considerable stock in what those eyewitnesses have to say. Yet, eyewitness accounts are often fallible and inaccurate. This has led to many false convictions over the years.
According to the Innocence Project, eyewitness misidentifications are now the leading cause of wrongful convictions. How common are eyewitness misidentifications, and why are they often inaccurate?
Eyewitness misidentification statistics
In a study of more than 375 wrongful convictions made across the United States, eyewitness misidentification played a key role in 69% of them. Because eyewitness misidentification plays such a dominant role in wrongful convictions, many states have implemented core reforms intended to enhance the accuracy of eyewitness accounts. Louisiana counts itself among them.
Eyewitness misidentification contributors
There are several reasons eyewitness accounts are often inaccurate. Administrators often provide unintentional clues in standard lineups. These clues may make the eyewitness more likely to finger a particular lineup participant. Eyewitnesses also tend to assume that the perpetrator of a particular crime does, in fact, appear in a lineup even when he or she is not actually present. Many lineup administrators also neglect to ask an eyewitness about his or her level of confidence that a particular suspect committed a crime. Many believe doing so could help improve the accuracy of the eyewitness account.
Eyewitness accounts remain among the most convincing forms of evidence out there, even though these accounts are often prone to distortion.