Eyewitness identification is considered among the most accurate evidence available in criminal investigations. Yet, lineup identification has a serious error rate and sends many innocent individuals through a stressful and lengthy criminal process that can end in wrongful conviction and incarceration.
Unfortunately, misidentification by eyewitnesses is the most significant cause of wrongful conviction across the United States. Of 289 wrongful convictions that have been overturned because of subsequent DNA testing, 75 percent involved eyewitness identification. According to the Hawaii Innocence Project, the accuracy of a typical police lineup can be increased by instituting simple measures, such as:
- Ensure that police officers who administer photo or live lineups do not know who the suspect is
- Tell the witness that the perpetrator may not be in the lineup
- Inform the witness that the lineup results will not affect the continued investigation of the crime
Eyewitnesses typically want to provide an accurate report. However, their memories are not necessarily accurate and they can be easily swayed by any statements or actions made by police, as well as a natural desire to get a criminal off the street. Even after initial skepticism, law enforcement officials in other states that implemented simple reforms now recognize their value in increasing the accuracy of eyewitness identification.
Although the Hawaii Senate Ways and Means Committee held hearings in February, 2012 regarding legislation to reform the best practices for eyewitness identification, the bill was eventually placed into pending status. Until such legislation in enacted, wrongfully-charged individuals must work closely with experienced criminal defense attorneys to help dispute faulty evidence against them and protect their freedom.