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I - Identification: How Reliable is Eye Witness Identification

I - Identification (Eye Witness Identification)

Eye Witness Identification: Is it Science? Is it Reliable?

The issue is not as much about sincerity or honesty as it is about a witness's ability to accurately recall.

Our memories are not like cameras or video recorders. Memories can be skewed, altered, deleted, falsified, coerced or modified.

On the first day of my Criminal Procedure class, during the first semester of law school, I witnessed this first hand. As we newbies settled into our seats, a ragged looking man bolted into the classroom. He dashed past the first few rows of seats, marched up the elevated platform and in what seemed like a single move, he swiped a student's purse, turned and sprinted out the door. We were all in shock. No, as it turned out, we had not just witnessed a scary crime. Our law professor staged the crime to demonstrate a point.

For the remaining forty-eight minutes of class we gave our eye witness statements to the professor. 
Out of 100 plus students, we gave 100 different descriptions of the perpetrator. It was mind boggling how so many of us had such different memories of what occurred. All of our accounts were authentic and unwavering. Did he have a weapon? Some saw a knife, some saw nothing, others weren't sure. His height ranged from 5'8 to over 6 feet tall. The only fact a majority of us agreed on was the perpetrator's race. None of us lied. We were all, however, under the stress of the recent attack.

People say that if they witnesses a loved one gunned down or if they were held captive, or raped at knife point, they would never, ever, forget the perpetrators face. But science and psychology tell us that our eye witness accounts are far too often unreliable.

According to the Innocence Project, 318 wrongful convictions have been overturned by DNA. Eye witness testimony contributed to 72% of those wrongful convictions. Frightening, isn't it?

A to Z Crime Fiction Murder Mystery:

Startling new development in the case:

A neighbor came forward to update her former witness statement. She now remembers seeing an attractive man with curly brown hair, smoking a cigarette and walking in the victim's driveway around 10:30 P.M., the night Martha was killed. She was shown a photo lineup, (a photo array of six photos) and she positively identified the tenant, Michael Prejean as the man she saw. Ordinarily, his presence would not mean much. After all he resides on the premises. But, Michael Prejean claims he was in Florida on the night Martha Clinton was killed.

Today's Clue: Letter I - Identical 

For a complete update on the Crime Fiction Murder Mystery, visit my Legal Fiction Page.

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Melissa Sugar said...

Is he an identical twin? I am! Even though I really don't look exactly like my twin sister, and I have some pretty telling differences, anyone who doesn't know I'm a twin would think she was me if she was around my normal haunts. So, does Michael have an identical twin?

Melissa Sugar said...

I remember going through a group test for Eyewitness Identification. Everyone got more than a few things wrong. Its harder than it sounds to be a reliable eyewitness.

Melissa Sugar said...

It's funny what people think they remember in the heat of the moment. Thank goodness for DNA testing. I'd rather have solid proof than rely on 'he said/she said' as the only source of evidence. Hardly seems like evidence at all.

Melissa Sugar said...

The professor knew how to get his point across. Although doing that now might get him stabbed or shot.
It's like with a traffic accident - what really happened varies from one witness to the next.

Melissa Sugar said...

I don't know. Does he. You will have to keep reading. I didn't know you were an identical twin. That's cool. My triplet girls (two died when they were young ) were two identical and one fraternal. When they were born the hospital called them a pair and a spare. I suppose that if they all lived that would be a cute saying.

Melissa Sugar said...

It really is.

Melissa Sugar said...

I'm with you. That's why we had so many wrongful convictions prior to DNA

Melissa Sugar said...

We were talking about that exact scenario a few days ago. My husband and I both said that if someone ran into a classroom today and grabbed a purse, at a minimum someone would tackle his ass and beat the hell out of him. Things have changed in 20 +years, drastically.

Melissa Sugar said...

That is a cute saying. So sad for you to lose your children. Multiple births are tough. My mom had twin boys back in the 60's (her first) that died after just a few days. They didn't have the neonatal care we do now. Nobody believed she was pregnant with twins, and her doctor thought she was a little nuts over her first set, but 4 kids later my twin sister and I were born and my mom got to say "I told you so."

Melissa Sugar said...

Hi Melissa - interesting about your first class - I've just heard a similar story here in a slightly different context .. once this A-Z is over I'll email you about it .. as I think you might be interested.

Having said that - how could the witness see the man wandering around at 10.30 pm .. it's dark isn't it ... and how can you be so clear, so many days later ..

I'm on to J .. next .. cheers Hilary

Melissa Sugar said...

Eyewitness statements can be a nightmare, especially when emotionally charged. I'm working a dog case now. 2 large dogs, on leash, attacked a small dog off leash. Small dog died at vet, both owners present during attack. These are the only facts I can get them to agree on. I have spent days trying to reconstruct a 30 second event. Did the attack happen one foot on the small dog's property or one foot in the street? Did the brown dog bite the little dog or did the white dog do it? Who's liable? Was the little dog "at large"? Does that mitigate responsibility? Does the incident meet the City's dangerous dog parameters? -- I'd much rather follow YOUR story. The Clinton family is blowing up my phone and detective Coker isn't tearing apart my narrative!

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