The Problem With Eyewitness Lineups

Flaws in the eyewitness identification lineup process can lead to the wrongful conviction of an innocent person.

In many criminal cases in Iowa and across the United States, eyewitnesses are able to testify in court, which can contribute to the incrimination of the defendant. The problem lies in the fact that there are a number of flaws in the eyewitness lineup process, and in some cases, it can lead to the wrongful conviction of an innocent person. Since 1992, 351 people have been exonerated of their prison sentences after evidence proved that they were wrongfully convicted, according to the Innocence Project. In at least 70 percent of those cases, eyewitness misidentification played a role in the erroneous charges.

A look at the facts

An experiment published by involved a researcher who wished to gain a better understanding of how eyewitness testimony affects the outcome of a criminal trial. In one case, a jury was presented circumstantial evidence regarding a robbery murder. With only the circumstantial evidence, just 18 percent of the jury found the defendant guilty of the crime. When a single eyewitness testimony was added to the same evidence, however, a surprising 72 percent of jurors came back with a guilty verdict. This example shows the power that eyewitness testimony has over people, regardless of whether the eyewitness has chosen a guilty or innocent person.

Flaws in the process

There are several flaws in the eyewitness lineup process that can lead to an innocent person being named as a suspect. The lineup administrator may inadvertently or purposely make a comment regarding someone in the lineup, prompting the witness to choose that person. Furthermore, the people who are selected to be in the lineup should be well chosen based on the characteristics of the suspect. For example, if the perpetrator was said to have a moustache and tattoo, there should be more than one person in the lineup that have these physical characteristics.

When the eyewitness is given instructions, he or she should be told that the suspect may not be present in the lineup. This relieves witnesses from feeling as though they are forced to make a selection from the people present in the lineup.

What is being done?

All eyewitness lineups should be conducted by a blind administrator, who has no knowledge of any details regarding the crime. The administrator has a script that they must read from in order to eliminate leading. In addition, the entire process should be taped in case the judge or attorneys in the case wish to review the process for any reason.

Knowing where to turn

When you have been charged with a traffic violation, robbery or another serious crime, you may feel overwhelmed and not know where to turn for help. A criminal attorney in Iowa who has handled these types of cases may help find answers to your questions and help you choose a legal path that is right for your case.