Eyewitness Identification

In Watkins v. Sowders, Justice Brennan noted in his dissent that “[a]ll the evidence points rather strikingly to the conclusion that there is almost nothing more convincing [to a jury] than a live human being who takes the stand, points a finger at the defendant, and says ‘That’s the one!'”[1] Despite this truism, overturned convictions and research on human memory have cast doubt on the reliability of eyewitness identification. According to the Innocence Project, eyewitness misidentification has played a role in more than seventy percent of wrongful convictions that were overturned by post-conviction DNA testing.[2]

“Estimator factors” relating to the eyewitness may create circumstances which can taint his or her identification of a suspect. Such factors include cross-racial identification bias, stress, the weapon-focus effect, and the forgetting curve of eyewitness memory. These factors can also be confounded by systemic factors, such as unreliable police lineup procedures. To correct these issues, experts recommend the use of a double-blind lineup procedure, instructions informing the eyewitness that the suspect may not be present, fillers who resemble the eyewitness’ description of the suspect, confidence statements rating the eyewitness’ degree of confidence in his or her identification, and electronic recording of the entire lineup procedure.[3]


Reviews of Current Trends in Forensic Science

Forensic science is a constantly progressing field due to the advent of new instruments, techniques, and novel interpretations. Considering the evolving nature of the discipline, it is imperative that legal professionals and scientists remain aware of modern methods and advancements in forensic science. Emily Lennert with the UCF National Center for Forensic Science regularly reviews journal articles related to forensic science. Those reviews can be found here with the accompanying citation to the journal article for further reading.


Eyewitness Identification Investigation – Dr. James Michael Lampinen

[1] Watkins v. Sowders, 449 U.S. 341, 352 (1982) (Brennan, J. dissenting).

[2] Eyewitness Misidentification. http://www.nij.gov/topics/forensics/evidence/pathology/Pages/welcome.aspx (accessed September 24, 2018).

[3] Eyewitness Misidentification. http://www.nij.gov/topics/forensics/evidence/pathology/Pages/welcome.aspx (accessed September 24, 2018).

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