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Eyewitness Identification Issues 

Mohammadi & Humayun, LLC  June 11, 2024

Police lineup of suspectsThe U.S. criminal justice system faithfully relies on eyewitness testimony when it comes to convicting people charged with criminal offenses. And no wonder why. What could be more reliable than a person testifying as to what they saw with their own eyes?  

While eyewitness testimony can be a powerful form of evidence, there may be issues with eyewitness identification. This is when witnesses identify a suspect in a live lineup, show-up, or a photo array.

If you're being investigated for a crime or have been charged with a crime, you might think there is nothing you can do other than wait. However, when your freedom and future are at stake, you’re doing yourself a disservice if you choose to just wait.  

Our attorneys at Mohammadi & Humayun, LLC, can evaluate the facts of your case and identify the potential issues and flaws in the eyewitness identification. You might not realize you have a chance to walk away with an innocent verdict before you speak with our criminal defense attorneys in Rockville, Maryland.  

What Is Eyewitness Identification?  

In criminal law, eyewitness identification refers to an investigative tool that involves asking eyewitnesses – those who see an alleged crime being committed – to identify a suspect. The purpose of this procedure is to identify or eliminate the person as the suspect. There are three types of eyewitness identification procedures: show-ups, live lineups, and photos arrays.  

The eyewitness may be a victim of the alleged crime or a bystander. Sometimes, it can also be a participant in the crime who agrees to testify in exchange for a lesser sentence. 

Issues with Eyewitness Identification in Criminal Cases

While every case is unique and calls for personalized attention from an attorney, problems with eyewitness identification are generally broken down into three categories.  

1. Faulty Human Memory

One of the primary reasons eyewitness testimony is problematic is the fallibility of human memory. Memory is not a perfect recording device. It’s reconstructive and can be influenced by various factors, including:  

  • Stress. High-stress situations (e.g., witnessing a crime) can impair an individual's ability to accurately recall details. 

  • Lighting and visibility. Poor lighting or obstructed views can lead to misidentification of the perpetrator.  

  • “Weapon focus” effect. When a weapon is used in the commission of a crime, witnesses may focus their attention on the weapon rather than the perpetrator's facial features or other details, leading to less reliable identifications. 

Each case should be evaluated individually as the potential limitations of human memory may differ from one person to person.  

2. Suggestive Identification Procedures

The methods used by law enforcement to obtain eyewitness identifications can also introduce errors, especially if the procedure is too suggestive. Potential problems with these procedures include:  

  • Lineup construction. If the lineup is poorly constructed and the suspect stands out, the witnesses are more likely to make incorrect identifications. 

  • Administrator bias. The person administering the lineup may – intentionally or unintentionally – give cues to the witness about which person to identify. 

  • Photo arrays. Similar to live lineups, photo arrays can be suggestive if not properly constructed and administered. 

Even though the U.S. Department of Justice issued guidelines to minimize suggestiveness in identification procedures in 2017, adherence to these guidelines can vary widely. 

3. Psychological Factors

Several psychological phenomena may also affect the accuracy of eyewitness identifications: 

  • Memory decay. Over time, memories fade and details become less accurate, even in perfectly healthy individuals with no abnormal memory loss.  

  • Post-event information. Exposure to new information after the event can alter a witness's memory, a phenomenon known as the “misinformation effect.” 

  • Confidence-accuracy correlation. Witnesses who appear confident in their identification are often believed more readily, but confidence does not always equal accuracy. 

You may need an attorney’s assistance to scrutinize the circumstances under which the identification was made and to determine if any psychological or other issues played a role.  

What to Do if You Are Facing Charges Based on Eyewitness Identification

If you're charged with a crime based on eyewitness identification, it could make sense to explore potential issues with the identification to get the charges against you dismissed or dropped. Here’s how you could do that: 

  1. Contact an attorney. A criminal defense attorney can evaluate the potential weaknesses in eyewitness testimony and build a foundation for your defense.  

  1. Challenge the identification. If your attorney has reason to believe and evidence to prove issues with the eyewitness identification, they will file motions to suppress the evidence.  

  1. Gather other evidence. Your attorney will collect all available pieces of evidence to challenge the identification. Such evidence could be forensic evidence, surveillance footage, alibi, or others, depending on the facts of your case.  

  1. Hire expert witnesses. Sometimes, you may need testimony from expert witnesses to prove your case. This could include hiring an expert in psychology or human memory to testify about the unreliability of eyewitness identifications.  

If you believe that there are any issues with eyewitness identification, taking these four steps could help you prove your innocence or, at the very least, lessen the severity of your charges.  

Facing Criminal Charges? We Can Help.

If you need help challenging eyewitness identification or other witness testimony when facing criminal charges, our team at Mohammadi & Humayun, LLC, can help.  

Our criminal defense attorneys in Rockville, Maryland, can determine whether the law enforcement followed proper procedures and guidelines when collecting testimony or if there are any other issues with eyewitness identification.  

Schedule a confidential consultation now to discuss the facts of our situation and find out how we could help.