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Eyewitness identifications may not always be accurate

Evidence against some people in Florida facing criminal charges might be based on eyewitness identification, but this is not always reliable. In one case in California, a man spent eight years in prison on a rape conviction and was released after being exonerated on DNA evidence.

The man was convicted after being identified by the victim and a witness. When the victim first identified the man in a photo lineup, she said she was 70 percent certain of his identity. By the time of the trial, she said she was 100 percent certain. However, the co-director of the California Innocence Project said this is not unusual. He said that eyewitnesses often identify the person in a photo lineup who most resembles the one who committed the crime. That person is then identified a second time in a police lineup. These multiple identifications solidify the idea of this person as the perpetrator, and by the time the trial occurs, the witness is fully confident.

In the case in California, the witness was also of a different race from the man. Studies have shown that identifying people of other races has a higher incidence of error. Some jurisdictions have adopted double blind processes in which the detective also does not know which person is the suspect, and this has led to more accuracy.

Challenging eyewitness identification is one potential strategy for criminal defense attorneys. This or other pieces of evidence could be exposed as unreliable. For example, some types of tests might have been performed incorrectly. Evidence might also have been gathered illegally, and this could lead to its exclusion or even the dismissal of the entire case.

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