Rosenblum Schwartz & Fry
314-499-1424

A compelling need to reform/improve witness ID processes

Every American law school student becomes acquainted with one select quote very early in their legal studies.

It comes courtesy of the illustrious Sir William Blackstone, a renowned 18th-century judge and jurist. Blackstone allegedly uttered the following words, which still resonate in an aspirational and idealistic way for criminal law attorneys across the United States:

“Better that 10 guilty persons escape than that one innocent person suffer.”

Although some lock-them-up hard-on-crime enthusiasts might object to that sentiment, doesn’t it ring absolutely true from an ethical standpoint? No reasonable and compassionate American can rest easy knowing that innocent individuals are locked away behind bars in state and federal prisons after being falsely convicted of crimes.

And yet many are. And, as noted in a recent in-depth article on that subject matter, one core catalyst that drives wrongful convictions is false eyewitness identification.

By every measurable indication, the inaccurate targeting of criminal suspects is a serious and persistent problem across the country. The advocacy group Innocence Project states that flatly wrong eyewitness identification has factored into more than 70% of hundreds of wrongful convictions that were reversed through DNA discoveries.

There are often inherent flaws in the “traditional” lineup process that many eyewitnesses participate in. For example, police officers who are present can serve as sources of suggestive cues regarding guilt or innocence through their body posture, facial movements and/or comments. Or one individual in a lineup might look materially different from all other suspects.

Reportedly, legislators and criminal law officials with a reform bent are increasingly noting and expressing concerns with lineup irregularities and their close nexus with wrongful outcomes. New lineup procedures based on enhanced learning and best practices are being practiced in growing numbers of police departments nationally.

That is a good thing, of course, but it bears noting that some level of subjectivity can still exist in even the most well-considered lineup process.

Questions or concerns regarding criminal lineups and identification, as well as any other matters occurring during a critical stage of investigation, can be directed to an experienced criminal defense attorney.

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Rosenblum Schwartz & Fry

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