The Problem with Eyewitness Testimony and Wrongful Convictions


Each criminal case has its own set of unique circumstances and defendants aren’t always tried and convicted as easily as seen on television. Untold things may happen behind the scenes of an investigation before the case goes before a judge and jury, especially  interviewing witnesses.

Eyewitness testimony has a great impact on juries, especially if that testimony or identification is from a victim witness, and most eyewitness testimony is given by honest people who wish to help solve the crime and convey justice.

According to the Innocence Project, “In the first 239 DNA exonerations, mistaken eyewitness identifications were a factor in more than 70% of the cases, making it the number one cause of wrongful convictions in DNA cases.” 

Police lineups and eyewitness rules

One of the issues in mistaken eyewitness identity is the fact that many police agencies lack standardized policies surrounding lineups and photo arrays, even though the seriousness of the testimony will contribute to a verdict.

In recent cases, eyewitnesses and victim witnesses have recanted what they believed to be the truth at the time they were initially interviewed by investigators. Whether an increase in knowledge or a repressed memory surfacing, they realized that their identification and testimony was wrong.

Substantial positive changes to policies in some larger police agencies have shown that not only do they protect the potential suspect, but also protect the police, as well as lend credibility to the justice system.

Detectives and prosecutors who are looking for a “win” may also contribute negatively to the identification and testimony of eyewitnesses. By using coercion tactics, or making deals to extract favorable information, they are often instrumental in convicting the wrong person.

Every time a person is wrongfully convicted, an active criminal is still at large.

Mistaken identity, human memory errors

Human beings are notably good at recognizing faces, especially faces that we already know or have seen before. When it comes to someone we’ve only seen briefly, psychology experiments show that we are very poor at accurately recognizing that face. Their evidence also shows that remembering a face is not like taking a photograph, and what we see is also influenced by other factors coinciding with the incident.

Several components determine whether the eyewitness has the ability to accurately remember an account, particularly if it was a traumatic incident and whether the eyewitness is also the victim.

In many criminal cases the eyewitness testimony may be the only direct evidence presented at trial.

Mistaken identifications that lead to wrongful convictions can be as unjust as not solving the crime at all.

Jonathan Fleming case

While investigating the wrongful conviction of Jonathan Fleming it was difficult to track down all the witnesses who testified at the original trial that convicted Fleming of murder.

Through our network of investigators we were able to track down one witness who recalled,…. she was paid by the police in exchange for her statement. She would later tell the DA that the police helped her write the statement by telling her what to say and how to write it. She stated that at the time she was addicted to crack and would do or say anything to get it.

Another, considered the “eyewitness” in the case, ….maintained her original story that she made a deal with the police to testify against our client to get the charges against her dropped for a felony arrest she had been picked up on.

All of the ingredients of a flawed conviction can come down to the testimony of one person who could be wrong, who could be mistaken, who could be coerced. Our justice system, and those wrongly accused deserve better.

celebratingManagement Resources Ltd of New York is a professional investigative firm licensed in New York and New Jersey, members of the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Associated Licensed Detectives of New York, and Founding Members and Regional Directors of Investigating Innocence.

Bob Rahn and Kim Anklin are available for interviews or speaking engagements.  Contact ImaginePublicity at 843-808-08509 or email




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Members of the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
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investigating innocence, management resources, bill clutter, bob rahn, kim anklin
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