Eyewitness identification: A reliable form of evidence?

When eyewitnesses identify the wrong person as a perpetrator, it can lead to the wrongful incrimination of an innocent person.

For many years, eyewitness testimony has been regarded as a valuable form of evidence in Texas criminal court trials. Since witnesses were either present when the crime took place or have information regarding the incident, they may be asked to choose the suspect out of a photographic or physical lineup. In the U.S. judicial system, people are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. However, people who have been identified as a perpetrator by an eyewitness are at higher risk of being found guilty than those who have not, even if they are innocent of committing a crime.

When present in a criminal court trial, eyewitness testimonies can persuade jurors to convict people who they may have otherwise found innocent. In one study published by PBS.org, a jury was presented with circumstantial evidence for a murder that had taken place. Approximately 18 percent of the jury found the defendant guilty of the crime. In the second study, the jury was presented with the same circumstantial evidence as in the first trial. Yet in the second trial, a single eyewitness testified that the defendant was indeed the perpetrator. Surprisingly, 72 percent of the jury found the defendant guilty with the addition of the eyewitness.

Is eyewitness identification reliable?

The problem lies in the fact that a number of credible studies indicate that eyewitness identification is inherently unreliable. According to the Innocence Project, innocent people are found guilty of crimes they did not commit more often than people realize. Of the 343 people who were released from their prison sentences after DNA testing proved their innocence, more than 240 were wrongfully identified by an eyewitness.

There are a number of factors that can lead to these devastating errors, including the following:

  • Errors in human memory and how people perceive and store information.
  • Environmental factors that can limit vision, such as bad lighting and distance.
  • Flaws in the eyewitness lineup process, such as inadvertent coercion and poor lineup organization.

Racial disparities can also make it difficult for witnesses to distinguish specific facial features of a person who is of a different race than their own.

Upholding your rights in court

As an American citizen, you are entitled to certain rights, including your right to a fair trial. If you have been charged with a crime, you may be overwhelmed and emotional at the thought of going to trial. It can be difficult to make decisions during this hard time, and you may want to speak to a criminal defense attorney in Texas regarding your case.