We noted some flatly troubling aspects relevant to eyewitness identification in criminal law matters in our immediately preceding blog post.
We specifically pointed out in our June 1 entry that more than 70% of all convictions across the country that were subsequently deemed wrongful by exculpatory DNA evidence involved misinformed eyewitness testimony.
The advocacy group Innocence Project has consistently railed on that frightening finding for some time now, making two central points concerning it, to wit:
- Shaky and less-than-objective police practices and procedures spur wrong identifications in many instances; and
- Reforms can be introduced that will yield greater consistency and accuracy in lineup outcomes
Given the sheer downsides inherent in eyewitness misidentification, reform is an obvious imperative in Arkansas and across the country. Following are some recommendations offered by the National Academy of Sciences, which set forth “a set of reform procedures” that the Innocence Project strongly endorses.
So-called “blind administration” is one suggestion, which simply entails the idea that no official involved in administering a lineup process know who the actual suspect is. As noted by the Innocence Project, lack of such knowledge “can prevent suggestive statements or unconscious gestures or vocal cues that may influence the witness.”
Another suggested reform is this: Non-suspects (“fillers”) in lineups should reasonably resemble the suspect, and vice versa. And in tandem with that, the viewer should be told that the suspect “may or may not be in the lineup” and that there is no pressure to make any identification, given that the lineup is only one stage in a larger investigation.
Memory plays tricks, with witness identification making for a subjective exercise. The Innocence Project and many other criminal justice reform-focused groups strongly support the standard introduction of lineup processes and procedures that enhance objectivity and better clarity in matters involving eyewitness identification.