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Eyewitness Identification May Not Be as Reliable as You Think

It is a scene fit for any episode of Law & Order: it is a rainy, dark night when law enforcement officers are summoned to the scene of a fatal brawl. They arrive and see a young man, face down in a pool of his own blood. He has been stabbed multiple times. There is one witness who says she saw the whole thing. She is shaken and upset, nearly hysterical, as officers press her for details as to what happened. She eventually gives them enough details that they conclude the dead body at the scene is a murder victim and their suspect is a male in his late 30s and about five feet ten inches tall. Police go to work combing the local neighborhood looking for their suspect.

A Suspect is Found . . . or Is He?

After about a half-hour search, officers locate a suspect somewhat matching the description provided by the witness. He is a Hispanic male (the witness only stated he had “darkish skin … not white”) and his identification shows he is 28 years old and is five feet six inches tall. Officers notice the man has what appears to be blood on his jeans: he claims that earlier in the day his dog had gotten injured and he was bandaging the dog when the dog’s blood got on his jeans. Nevertheless, he is handcuffed and taken by the police to where the witness is at. After briefly looking at the man as he sits handcuffed in the back of a cruiser, the witness exclaims: “Yes, that’s him. I’m sure of it. That’s the man who killed the other guy.”

Is the prosecution’s case closed? Is this man bound for prison? Not so fast…

Problems with Eyewitness Identification

The prevailing opinion used to be that an eyewitness who was certain or convinced that a particular person had committed a crime and was willing to testify to this under oath was reliable and the witness’s identification ought to be given considerable weight. But recent research has shown that there are problems with eyewitness identifications, including:

  • False eyewitness identifications can be made if the eyewitness is presented with a person who is in handcuffs, in a police cruiser, or if the police ask the eyewitness something like, “This is the guy you saw, right?”;
  • Eyewitnesses can be influenced in a police photo lineup if there are distinctive marks on the photograph of the accused but not on other photographs; and
  • Eyewitnesses have changed their initial descriptions about the suspect they saw after police apprehended a person who did not match the initial description in key ways.

Why You Need a Criminal Defense Attorney Now

If you are being charged with a crime based on an eyewitness’s account of the crime, you should know that an experienced and skilled criminal defense attorney may be able to attack the reliability of the eyewitness’s testimony and overcome a key piece of evidence the prosecution may be relying upon. Contact the law office of Jeffrey S. Weiner, P.A. today at (305) 670-9919 and discuss your case with Miami criminal defense attorney Jeffrey S. Weiner.

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