Posted on September 13, 2017

Mistaken Identification in CA Criminal Trials


According to the innocence project, eyewitness identification is the greatest contributing factor to wrongful conviction proven by DNA testing, playing a role in more than 70% of convictions overturned through DNA testing nationwide. Undoubtedly, experts in the field of eyewitness identification agree that a significant number of factors can play a critical role leading misidentification of a suspect. These factors include:

  • Poor lighting
  • Cross-racial identification
  • Highly suggestive lineups
  • Contaminated memory

Scientific studies have affirmed that eyewitness identification is often inaccurate and that it can be made more accurate by implementing specific identification reforms, reports the Innocence Project. Proponents of implementing policies and procedures to ensure more accurate identification procedures include:

  • Audio and video recordings of identification procedure
  • More detailed instructions reducing the pressure of the witness
  • Requiring a detailed confidence statement from the witness
  • Having a blind administration from an officer unfamiliar with the case or suspect
  • Lineup composition should include people with a resemblance

Alarmingly, California law does not have procedures set in place to ensure the accuracy of a witness’s identification. Instead, an identification is made by a witness and courts believe that simple cross-examination of the witness in court should suffice. Fourteen states have recently adopted procedures law enforcement must comply with in order for the identification to be admissible.

Recognizing the need for a defendant to produce expert testimony to educate the jury on factors associated with unreliable witness identification, the California Supreme Court has stated “We address here a contention that is increasingly heard in the courts of California and our sister jurisdiction, i.e., that it may be an abuse of discretion to exclude the testimony of a psychologist who is a qualified expert witness on psychological factors shown by the evidence that may affect the accuracy of an eyewitness identification of the defendant.” (People v. McDonald (1984) 37 Cal.3d 351, 356.)

The best example is to ask yourself: What’s more reliable when someone’s car is stolen – e.g., a witness identified the suspect as the perpetrator or we lifted finger prints on the steering wheel revealing the identification of the thief? If you chose the latter, it’s probably because you agree that people make mistakes and simply relying on someone’s identification may not be accurate.

For more information, contact Orange County criminal defense attorney John Rogers at the Law Offices of John D. Rogers.

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