When innocent people are wrongfully incarcerated

Eyewitness misidentification and several other factors have led to the erroneous incarceration of innocent people.

Arizona prisons are filled with people who have been convicted of various crimes. However, not all of the people sentenced to prison in Arizona and across the U.S. are guilty of committing a crime. According to the Innocence Project, 329 people across the nation have been released from their prison sentences after evidence proved their innocence. Countless others remain behind bars and have been wronged by the judicial process. These erroneous convictions are the result of flaws in the U.S. judicial system. Many people are working to reduce the likelihood that an innocent person will end up behind bars.

Factors contributing to wrongful incarceration

There are a variety of factors that account for the high rate of wrongful incarceration in the U.S., including eyewitness misidentification, improper forensic testing, coerced confessions and the use of informants. Eyewitness misidentification is a contributing factor in at least 72 percent of cases involving exoneration, making it the most common cause of erroneous convictions. Although several studies have proven the inaccuracy of eyewitness identification and testimony, many states still allow the use of eyewitness testimony in court cases.

A study published by Frontline showed how a jury is more likely to find a suspect guilty of a crime if the trial contains an eyewitness testimony. In the first scenario, researchers presented a jury with circumstantial evidence regarding a crime. In this case, only 18 percent of the jurors marked the defendant as guilty. In the second scenario the same circumstantial evidence was used; however, a single eyewitness identified the defendant as the suspect of the crime. Despite the inherent unreliability of eyewitness testimony, 72 percent of the jurors found the defendant guilty.

A look at eyewitness misidentification

Limitations of the human mind, environmental factors and improper lineup procedures all contribute to the misidentification of innocent people in criminal trials. Lineup administrators may lead witnesses to choose the suspect out of a lineup, either by verbal or non-verbal suggestion. Poorly constructed lineups may single out a person as the suspect. In order to prevent these things from happening, lineup administrators should let the witness know that the suspect may not be present in the lineup. The administrators should also enter the process unaware of the suspect’s identity. All lineup procedures should be recorded.

Contact a legal representative

People who have been charged with a crime in Arizona may face considerable penalties, including fines, community service and jail time. Not only that, but a criminal charge can wreak havoc on your record and make it hard for you to find employment or obtain financing. An Arizona criminal defense attorney may be helpful in reviewing your case.

Keywords: eyewitness, identification, wrongful, conviction