The use of eyewitness testimony in criminal trials

When people go on trial for a crime, there is often evidence linking that person to the crime. In some cases, however, the evidence may be circumstantial and the answer as to whether the person on trial actually committed the crime isn’t so clear. Eyewitness testimony may be used to show that the defendant was present during the crime. Yet, research shows that eyewitness testimony is not always accurate and may lead to an innocent person being wrongfully convicted. When testimony is entered in court, the jurors may not understand that the witness’s identification of the suspect may not be valid.

In one study, the prosecution presented circumstantial evidence to a jury overseeing a robbery-murder case. Approximately 18 percent of the jury came back with a guilty verdict after viewing the information. The same case with identical circumstantial evidence was presented to a second jury, with an added testimony from a single eyewitness claiming they saw the defendant at the crime scene. In this case, 72 percent of the jurors came back with a guilty ruling.

The problem lies in the fact that innocent people are identified from lineups quite often. More than 360 people have been released from their prison sentences after further DNA testing found them to be innocent of their crimes, according to the Innocence Project. Not before many of them spent decades in prison and lost precious time away from their family. Eyewitness misidentification was involved in 70 percent of those cases. Studies have been conducted to find the flaws in the eyewitness lineup procedures and initiating standards to avoid these mistakes from ocurring in the future.

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