Bloomberg looks at the report on eye-witness identifications in criminal cases from the Innocence Project, the American Judicature Society and the Police Foundation.
The failings have been exposed through some 2,000 studies of eyewitness identifications over the past three decades. As investigations of human psychology, the studies are fascinating; as assessments of American justice, however, they are deeply disturbing, documenting an extraordinarily high prevalence of error in eyewitness identifications in both lab experiments and cases in the field. As a report from New Jersey’s court- appointed special master concluded, “At a minimum, almost one third of witnesses who make identifications are wrong.”
If that seems implausibly high, consider this: Three- quarters of convictions overturned on the basis of DNA evidence involved eyewitness identifications. In more than a third of those cases, multiple eyewitnesses identified the same innocent suspect. (There is no way of knowing how high the rate of eyewitness error might be in cases where DNA is not a factor, though there is no reason to think it is lower.)
Some witness errors result from faulty memories that have been further clouded by the stress that often accompanies seeing a crime. Witnesses are especially prone to error when identifying a suspect of a different race. Other misidentifications are a product of everyday human frailty combined with substandard — yet widespread — police procedures.
Read the whole thing.
You can’t believe what people say they saw, especially when the reputation of police and prosecutors is judged on convictions, not on justice.