Criminal investigations and convictions have long relied on identifications and testimony by eyewitnesses. Since numerous factors may affect the accuracy of witness ids, however, you may find yourself indicated as an alleged perpetrator of an offense and facing charges for a crime you did not commit.
According to the American Psychological Association, eyewitness inaccuracies were involved in close to 80% of the 200 overturned convictions analyzed in a 2008 study. While law enforcement agencies throughout the U.S. use suspect lineups to help identify alleged criminal offenders, evidence such as DNA repeatedly shows the flaws of this investigatory method.
Numerous factors may contribute to false suspect identifications, including emotion. Research has shown that witnesses who experience greater negative emotions as the result of an alleged crime correctly identify alleged perpetrators from lineups than emotionally neutral witnesses. This is the case despite their ability to provide more thorough descriptions of the person who allegedly committed the criminal offense.
The interactions witnesses have before making an identification may also affect the accuracy of their statements. For instance, research has shown that witnesses may inaccurately identify alleged criminal offenders if law enforcement shows them suspect photographs prior to the lineups.
Additionally, the instructions witnesses receive at the start of suspect lineups may affect the accuracy of their identifications. Researchers found that witnesses who received instruction that they did not have to make an identification gave less false recognitions than those who were not told they did not have to choose someone from the lineup.
The feedback law enforcement provides during and after the lineup may also affect the accuracy of eyewitness identifications. When those administering the lineup confirm witnesses’ choices, it may embolden them and bolster their consequence. Not providing positive feedback, on the other hand, may lead them to question what they saw or their identifications.