Legal dramas on television often have one side or the other call an eyewitness, just to have opposing counsel call the reliability of the witness into question. This doesn’t just happen on TV, however. It often occurs in our criminal law system here in Maricopa and throughout the rest of the United States, for that matter. Unfortunately, when a case lacks physical evidence and hinges on the testimony of an eyewitness the wrong person can sometimes be convicted and the long-term consequences are very real.
The Department of Justice is seeking ways to end wrongful convictions, and officials there have been working in conjunction with the International Association of Police chiefs to find ways to do this. One of the recommendations made in a report recently released by the two agencies is to more carefully evaluate the reliability of eyewitness identifications. Once investigators have a witness ID, they focus on proving their case and sometimes ignore physical evidence that could instead prove someone else committed the crime.
The report also calls for better standards when it comes to conducting interviews with suspects. For instance, recording interrogations—whether audio or video—can ensure that suspects are not coerced into confessing to a crime that they did not commit.
While these are excellent recommendations, it is up to local law enforcement agencies to incorporate them into their policies and procedures. Those who are accused of any type of crime are encouraged to exercise their right to have an attorney present before answering any questions or saying anything that could be viewed as a confession. A criminal defense attorney may be able to uncover evidence that investigators with “tunnel vision” overlook or discredit an eyewitness.
Source: USA Today, “Justice Department seeks to end wrongful convictions,” Bryan Lowry, Dec. 3, 2013