Eyewitness identification errors in TX may send the innocent to jail

Some U.S. law enforcement departments use flawed eyewitness identification techniques, which can lead to wrongful convictions.

Millions of Americans have faith that the U.S. judicial system will prosecute and incarcerate dangerous criminals, and free those people who are innocent. Unfortunately, the system does not always work that way, and a number of innocent people are wrongfully sent to prison for sex crimes and other violent crimes that they did not commit. According to the Innocence Project, 324 people have been released from prison, after DNA evidence proved that they were actually innocent of the crime they were accused of committing. Although there are several factors that can lead to an erroneous criminal conviction, flawed eyewitness identification practices, including improper lineup and photo array techniques used in Texas and in many other states across the country, is the number one cause of this injustice.

Identification procedure problem

According to the American Bar Association, innocent people are chosen out of lineups more than one-third of the time. Even when law enforcement officials left the primary suspect out of the lineup and informed the witness that the perpetrator may not be included in the lineup, witnesses still chose an innocent person in many cases. The ABA states that implementing the following standardized techniques in the lineup procedure can help to minimize misidentifications:

  • Double-blind procedures, where the lineup administrator is not aware of the suspect's identity, should always be used. This removes all probability that the administrator may provide unintentional suggestions as to the suspect's identity.
  • The administrator should always advise the witness that the perpetrator may not be present in the lineup and that the witness should not feel pressured to choose someone.
  • In photo lineups, the pictures should all be similar in size and color to keep one photo from standing out. The witness should never be asked to view more than six photos at a time.
  • Lineups should be organized so that one person does not stand out from the others. For instance, if the perpetrator was bald, there should be more than one bald person included in the lineup.

Finally, all lineups should be recorded so that officials can ensure that the proper procedure was followed.

Texas lineup procedure reform

In 2011, Texas lawmakers enacted legislation requiring all law enforcement agencies in the state to create a detailed written policy on how their department would govern eyewitness procedures and collect eyewitness statements, according to the Innocence Project of Texas. The Law Enforcement Management Institute of Texas designed a sample policy to aid law enforcement departments in the creation of their own policy. The Innocence Project of Texas is independently reviewing department policies to see if they adhere to the state's lineup procedure recommendations.

When to contact an attorney

Every American is entitled to a fair trial under the U.S. Constitution. When a person is falsely accused of a crime, they may feel disheartened and scared of the possible consequences of the misaccusation. A criminal defense attorney, who has a thorough knowledge of Texas law, can ensure that your rights are upheld in court.

Keywords: eyewitness, testimony, conviction