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Eyewitness misidentifications lead to new police lineup rules

Kentucky residents want to believe the criminal justice system never makes mistakes. Unfortunately, that's not the case. According to the Innocence Project, the eyewitness identification process used by many police departments is unreliable. Witnesses can be influenced by things like the instructions they receive, their interactions with police officers and even the suspect's race. As a result, many people have been misidentified and wrongly convicted of crimes they didn't commit.

In January, a 58-year-old Louisiana man was released from prison after DNA testing showed he could not have been the person who raped a 39-year-old shop owner in 1979. He had been convicted in part because the victim identified him in a police lineup. However, the Innocence Project said her eyewitness testimony was influenced by interactions with police officers. To prevent similar incidents in the future, Louisiana now requires that police use double-blind lineups, which means the officer overseeing the lineup does not know who the suspect is.

The Innocence Project has helped get over 350 wrongful convictions overturned via DNA testing. Of those, 71 percent involved eyewitness misidentifications. Meanwhile, the National Registry of Exonerations found that mistaken identity played a role in 29 percent of exonerations over the last three decades. To remedy the issue, law enforcement agencies in half the states have adopted new police lineup procedures. In addition to double-blind lineups, witnesses are also told that the suspect may not be in the lineup. This helps alleviate any pressure witnesses may feel to make an identification.

Individuals facing criminal charges could face severe consequences, including incarceration. However, a criminal defense attorney could develop a defense strategy based on the circumstances of the case and work to get the charges dismissed or reduced.

Source: PEW, "Police Are Changing Lineups to Avoid False IDs", Michael Ollove, July 13, 2018

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