When you face a criminal charge in Arizona, the words of any eyewitnesses planning to testify in your case may have a large impact on its outcome. An eyewitness’s testimony is often some of the most compelling evidence presented during a trial. Also, many judges and juries place a good deal of faith in the testimony of eyewitnesses.
However, according to the Innocence Project, eyewitness testimony is not as accurate as you might believe. Instead, eyewitness accounts involve memory, and memory is fallible and vulnerable to distortion over time. To put things in perspective, of the 375 individuals who had their convictions overturned later due to post-conviction DNA evidence, 69% of them involved eyewitness misidentifications.
Why eyewitness accounts are often inaccurate
Sometimes, the law enforcement officers administering lineups provide witnesses with unintentional clues, such as glances, that make the witness more likely to identify a particular individual. Also, eyewitnesses have a tendency to believe that the perpetrator of a particular crime is present in a lineup. Those conducting the lineup do not always tell the witness that this may not be true.
What law enforcement agencies are doing to improve accuracy
Some agencies have begun using “blind administrators” when conducting lineups. Blind administrators are those who truly do not know the identity of a suspect. Others are making sure to give eyewitnesses clear sets of instructions before lineups. These instructions might include language about the true perpetrator possibly not being present at all during the lineup.
Many states have adopted these and other reforms promoted by the Innocence Project that seek to reduce the chances of eyewitness misidentifications. However, Arizona is not yet among them.