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How accurate are eyewitness identifications in criminal cases? — II

In our last post, our blog examined how the National Research Council recently published an eye-opening report discussing how mistaken eyewitness identifications in criminal cases involving strangers can often be linked to limitations in both human visual perception and memory.

In today’s post, we’ll continue to examine this report, delving into some of the best practices suggested by the authors for law enforcement to consider adopting in order to limit the possibility of these mistaken IDs.

What exactly can law enforcement do to limit mistaken eyewitness IDs?

First and foremost, the authors suggest that law enforcement agencies need to develop a comprehensive training system designed to cover such important issues as memory and vision, effective protocol and how to avoid contamination.

This might look something like training officers and agents how to reduce interactions among witnesses at a crime scene, ask open-ended (not leading) questions and avoid suggestive tactics.

What about lineups and photo arrays?

According to the authors, there is a strong possibility that law enforcement officials can inadvertently identify a suspect in a photo array or lineup through things like their facial expressions, body gestures or other nonverbal signs. Accordingly, the authors recommend law enforcement agencies try utilizing double-blind lineups or photo arrays in which the agent or officer administering it does not know the identity of the suspect.

Could standardized witness instructions prove helpful?

In keeping with the discussion of photo arrays and lineups, the report authors recommend the creation of readily comprehensible instructions informing witnesses that the suspect may or may not be present in the array/lineup, and that the investigation will continue regardless of whether they are able to identify the suspect. They indicate that these uniform instructions could be read aloud by the officer/agent, or be pre-recorded and played for the witness.

Here’s hoping law enforcement agencies across the nation start implementing these steps and continue working to reduce the possibility of mistaken eyewitness identifications in other equally effective ways.

Those charged with any sort of felony or misdemeanor should strongly consider speaking with an experienced legal professional as soon as possible to learn how to protect their rights, their freedom and their future.

Source: The National Research Council, “Report urges caution in handling and relying upon eyewitness identifications in criminal cases, recommends best practices for law enforcement and courts,” Oct. 2, 2014    

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