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DNA exonerates man convicted with eyewitness testimony

Some people in Minnesota who have been convicted of crimes using eyewitness evidence may have been wrongly identified. In California, a man was exonerated of rape charges after serving eight years in prison when DNA evidence showed he did not commit the crime. The man had been identified by both the victim and a witness.

A co-director of the California Innocence Project says that initial errors in eyewitness identification are often compounded and solidified over time. A witness might identify a photo in a lineup that most resembles the person they saw. Later, for the in-person lineup, they will then identify the person from the photo. By the time the trial happens, these multiple rounds of identification will have reinforced the witness’s confidence that the right person has been chosen. In the rape case, the victim said she was 70 percent certain at the time she made the photo identification, but by the time of the trial, she said she was 100 percent certain. Seeing the man in person reinforced her certainty. A witness who made the same identification was from another race, and studies have shown a higher rate of inaccuracy in cross-racial identification.

Jurisdictions are also moving toward double-blind identifications. When the detective does not know the identity of the suspect, identifications are more accurate and the rate of identification does not drop.

A person who is facing criminal charges might want to talk to an attorney about whether questioning eyewitness identification or other strategies might be the right choice. Eyewitnesses might be shown to have poor eyesight. Weather or lighting conditions could also contribute to the likelihood of mistaken identity. Other errors could include mistakes in obtaining samples or in lab results, gathering evidence without following proper procedures such as getting a search warrant, or violating a person’s rights while being taken into custody.