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Eyewitness misidentification: What you should know

If you have been accused of committing a crime in Illinois, you may be asked to participate in an eyewitness identification lineup. Witnesses are then asked to choose the suspect from the line of potential perpetrators. The problem lies in the fact that the eyewitness identification process can lead to errors, which may cause innocent people to be convicted of a crime they did not commit. According to the Innocence Project, 362 people were freed from prison after DNA evidence found they were actually innocent of committing a crime. Eyewitness misidentification was involved in more than 70 percent of these cases. What causes witnesses to choose the wrong people from a lineup?

First, inadvertent gestures and comments made by the lineup administrator may prompt witnesses to choose a certain person from the lineup. Administrators should be blind to the case, and not know any details of what is going on with the matter. Furthermore, poor organization of the lineup can lead to mistakes as well. For example, if the perpetrator is said to have had a beard and a tattoo on his arm, there should be more than one person in the lineup with a beard and tattoo. If there is only one person matching the description, the witness is most likely to choose this person, regardless of whether they are guilty or not.

Law enforcement departments should have strict regulations and rules in place when conducting eyewitness lineups to minimize the risk of choosing the wrong person from the lineup.

This information is intended to educate and should not be taken as legal advice.

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