The good news is that there are some simple procedures police and prosecutors can follow to vastly improve the integrity of eyewitness testimony.
The good news is that there are some simple procedures police and prosecutors can follow to vastly improve the integrity of eyewitness testimony.The bad news is that because these procedures result in fewer identifications, police and prosecutors have been reluctant to implement them.Groups like Scheck leads have been making these recommendations for years now. Previous NAS studies on forensic specialties like bullet lead composition have made a pretty big splash.
On the other hand, the broader 2009 NSA study that cast doubt on a number of forensic specialties, including bite mark evidence and blood spatter analysis, hasn’t had the same impact.
And previous revelations about sloppy crime lab work and bad forensics haven’t exactly led to government officials rushing to the courthouse to seek out and mitigate the harm done.
These limitations can produce mistaken identifications with significant consequences.
Writing about the study in USA Today, Innocence Project co-founder Barry Scheck points out that 73 percent of the wrongful convictions so far overturned by DNA testing included false identification by eyewitnesses.
The witness should be asked to describe in his or her own words how confident he or she is in the identification at the time the identification is made.
This is critical for helping jurors evaluate the reliability of the identification when the case goes to trial.
We’ve known for decades that eyewitness accounts of events are unreliable and that they generally become more unreliable over time.
We’ve also long known that eyewitnesses are vulnerable to suggestion, particularly from authority figures.
The witness should also be told that the perpetrator might or might not be present, and that the investigation will continue regardless of whether he or she identifies anyone.
The researchers also recommend that police take a confidence statement.