Posts Tagged ‘eyewitness testimony’


Exoneration Anniversary: Jerry Miller!

Taylor Thornton — April 23, 2018 @ 4:47 PM — Comments (0)

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Happy Exoneration Anniversary Jerry Miller!!

On October 1, 1982 Jerry Miller was convicted of rape, robbery, and kidnapping and sentenced to 45 years following the brutal attack of a woman entering her vehicle in a Chicago, Illinois parking garage. Despite his alibi and the victim being unable to accurately identify her attacker, Miller was convicted based primarily on the identification by employees of the parking garage who had seen the true assailant.

In 2005 the Innocence Project took on Miller’s case. A slip worn by the victim at the time containing DNA was tested and Jerry Miller was able to be excluded. At that time, the Cook County State Attorney’s Office joined the Cook County Public Defender’s Office and the Innocence Project in filing a joint motion to vacate Jerry Miller’s conviction. The DNA testing was also able to identify the true attacker when the profile was entered into the FBI offender database. Happy 11 years of freedom Jerry Miller!!

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Exoneration Anniversary: Megan Winfrey and Victor Larue Thomas!

Taylor Thornton — April 17, 2018 @ 10:48 AM — Comments (0)

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Happy Exoneration Anniversary Megan Winfrey!!

In 2008 Megan Winfrey was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the 2004 murder of Murray Burr in Coldspring, Texas. Her conviction was based on circumstantial evidence, primarily scent evidence from bloodhounds employed by the Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Department who allegedly “alerted” to Megan as well as her brother and father. In February of 2013 Megan Winfrey was acquitted when the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that the dog scent evidence was insufficient. Megan was released on April 17, 2013 when the state was denied their petition to retry her. Happy 5 years of freedom Megan Winfrey!

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Happy Exoneration Anniversary Victor Larue Thomas!!

Victor Thomas was sentenced to three life terms on June 15, 1986 for the beating and raping of a worker during the robbing of a convenience store in Waxahachie, Texas. Thomas’ conviction rested on his identification by the victim and her testimony in court. After writing numerous letters from behind bars trying to get help, state District Judge Gene Knize took notice of Victor. Judge Knize appointed Victor an attorney, asked the Ellis County District Attorney’s Office to re-investigate the case, and asked for DNA testing. DNA testing excluded Victor from being the attacker and he was released in June of 2001. Finally, Texas Governor Rick Perry pardoned him on April 17, 2002. Happy 16 years of freedom Victor Larue Thomas!!

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Rocky Mountain Innocence Center’s Recommendations for Improving Eyewitness Testimony

Alejandra de la Fuente — January 11, 2016 @ 2:00 PM — Comments (0)

Eyewitness identification is one of the oldest and most popular types of evidence used in criminal cases. According to Marla Kennedy, the executive director of the Rocky Mountain Innocence Center, faulty eyewitness testimony is the leading cause of wrongful convictions in the United States. She goes on to explain that in over 70 percent of cases where the individual was eventually exonerated by DNA, bad eyewitness identification contributed to the wrongful convicton.

The Rocky Mountain Innocence Center has partnered with the Unified Police Department to come up with better techniques for questioning eyewitnesses in order to hopefully prevent further wrongful convictions in the future. Both the Rocky Mountain Innocence Center and the Unified Police Department share the same goal of convicting the right person for a crime.

The team has recommended updated techniques for administering photo lineups. Instead of showing victims six pictures at the same time and asking them to identify the suspect, they suggest showing victims only one photo at a time. In addition, victims should only be able to view photos for a brief period of time, and be able to view each photo no more than twice. If the victim still cannot identify a suspect, another photo lineup should be conducted at a later time. The reasoning for this, Kennedy explains, is that if a victim cannot identify a suspect within the first ten seconds, the accuracy of an eventual identification drops by eight percent.

Another Rocky Mountain Innocence Center focusing on reforms related to the person administering the photo lineup. They state that the person conducting it should be someone who does not know who the suspect is, rather than the lead detective on the case. This way, officers cannot accidentally give away cues or ask leading questions that could possibly influence the victim’ or eyewitness’s answer.

Members of the Rocky Mountain Innocence Center hope that police departments all over Utah will adopt their recommended techniques.

Because of improved methods and technology in recent years, eyewitness testimony is now rarely solely relied upon. Most departments require additional evidence to support eyewitness identifications. However, regardless of the decreasing reliability upon eyewitnesses, adopting techniques to further ensure innocent people are not wrongfully convicted is essential.

In Florida, there is still no uniform best practice requiring law enforcement agencies to use these updated, evidence-based procedures. Instead we have a hodgepodge of different policies that differ from county to county and agency to agency, which creates uneven administration of justice. It’s time for Florida to join many other states that have implemented the very best eyewitness identification policies to prevent wrongful convictions.

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Using Eyewitnesses (Guest Post by Allison Gamble)

Alejandra de la Fuente — September 30, 2011 @ 2:41 PM — Comments (0)

Although the use of eyewitnesses to solve crimes and identify suspects is a technique as old as criminal justice itself, forensic psychology studies have increasingly questioned the validity of eyewitness testimony. Often people may correctly recall what happened at the scene of a crime, or be able to identify a culprit, but there are many ways eyewitness testimony may be swayed subconsciously, which have important ramifications for criminal cases. At times, false events or elements may be introduced into this testimony without an eyewitness’ awareness.

Ensuring that eyewitness testimony is as reliable as possible is essential for ensuring fair criminal investigations and trials. This is due to the influence such testimony can have over the outcome of a case. Mock jurors have been found to be about 45 percent more likely to convict a defendant when they heard eyewitness testimony. Even if the mock jurors knew the eyewitness had poor eyesight, they were only slightly less likely to issue a guilt verdict.

Studies on memory conducted during the 1970s used participants who viewed a scene involving a car at an intersection, and were asked later to describe the scene. When experimenters introduced the words “stop sign” into their questions about the scene, participants claimed to remember a stop sign being present, when the sign did not actually exist. Cues such as these were sufficient to change how people remembered the scene. These studies have important implications for eyewitness testimony, since they show how leading questions can cause people to change not only their testimony, but their actual memories of an event.

Memories tend to deteriorate over time, leading to incomplete retrieval of events that eyewitnesses have seen. In some cases, eyewitnesses asked to recall events could only describe about 68 percent of the details after a week, and this percentage became lower over time. When false memories were introduced, they were still recalled about one-quarter of the time.

Eyewitnesses may sometimes misidentify individuals in a police lineup, as well. A guide prepared by Iowa State University details how the presentation of a lineup can influence suspect identification. Witnesses tend to compare suspects in a lineup to one another to arrive at a decision on a culprit, instead of comparing each suspect to their memory of the culprit. If the witness receives positive feedback after making their decision, they tend to become more confident that they have selected the right person, even if the individual does not truly resemble the actual perpetrator of the crime. In order to prevent feedback from influencing a witness’ decision, law enforcement agencies recommend having an officer unfamiliar with the identities of individuals in lineup photos be the one to present them.

Although eyewitness testimony is far from perfect, there are steps that can be taken to ensure it is more accurate. One method already mentioned is to avoid giving feedback to witnesses on the information they provide. Another is to present lineup mugshots in a sequential order, rather than all at once, so eyewitnesses are more likely to compare each photo to their own memories, rather than comparing photos to one another. Warning juries of the unreliability of eyewitness testimony is another way to ensure convictions are based on more evidence than just this type of testimony.

Eyewitness testimony can be valuable when collected in a way that reduces errors. Deterioration of memory, the ability to remember nonexistent or false events, and overconfidence in memory can all influence eyewitnesses dramatically, however. Any person involved in the criminal justice system should therefore be aware of the limitations of eyewitness memory to avoid relying on such testimony too heavily.

Allison Gamble has been a curious student of psychology since high school. She brings her understanding of the mind to work in the weird world of internet marketing with forensicpsychology.net.

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