Eyewitness misidentification may lead to wrongful convictions in FL

Many Florida residents have faith that the American legal system will imprison dangerous criminals, locking them away so they no longer pose a threat to the public. Along with these criminals, however, innocent people have also been locked up, wrongfully accused and convicted of crimes that they did not commit. According to the Innocence Project, 321 people have been set free from prison after DNA evidence proved that they were not associated with the crime that they were convicted of committing. Approximately 72 percent of those exonerated were sent to prison as a result of eyewitness misidentification.

The Innocence Project tells the story of a Florida man with a clean criminal record, who was convicted and sent to prison for life in 1974 for the felony kidnapping and rape of a young boy. Although he and his sister argued that he was home watching television when the crime occurred, the victim chose the innocent man's picture in a photo lineup. The photograph was provided by the victim's uncle, who was the assistant principal at a local high school and had known the accused man as a student who had attended there. Nearly 35 years after he was convicted of the crime and sent to prison, DNA evidence obtained from the victim's underwear proved the man's innocence.

Causes of eyewitness misidentification

Unfortunately, flaws in the eyewitness identification and testimony process can result in wrongful identification and conviction of an innocent person. There are several details in criminal cases that can alter the accuracy of an eyewitness account, such as the amount of light present or whether a weapon was used during a crime. Protocol used during eyewitness lineups can also play a role in suspect misidentification.

Numerous studies show that if the actual suspect is left out of a lineup, eyewitnesses choose an innocent person more than one third of the time. To avoid this, many law enforcement agencies across the country have implemented eyewitness lineup procedures that have shown to reduce the likelihood that an error will occur, according to the American Bar Association. Here are some lineup procedures that are believed to minimize error:

  • All lineups should be double-blind, meaning that the person conducting the lineup is not aware of the suspect's identity.
  • Eyewitnesses should be told that the suspect may or may not be included in the lineup.
  • The lineups should be organized so that the suspect does not stand out. For example, if the perpetrator was said to have a beard, the suspect should not be the only person in the lineup that has a beard.
  • Lineup procedures should be taped. This will ensure that the administrator did not violate procedure or lead the witness in any way.

Law enforcement officials should refrain from using a homicide suspect, or any other suspect, in several lineups or organizing a lineup that contains two suspects at the same time.

How can an attorney help?

Eyewitness misidentification can be extremely damaging in a criminal case. A knowledgeable attorney can help you organize a solid defense and fight for your freedom. Whether you have been wrongfully accused of a crime or you need to prepare for a legal battle, the assistance from a criminal defense attorney is essential in your case.