Many criminal convictions and charges are heavily based on eyewitness testimony, even though it is known to be often inaccurate or unreliable. While people may be heavily affected by their experience of a crime, memory can be tricky, especially when people feel pressure to provide important information. In many cases, witnesses of a Virginia crime are asked to view a set of photos or a live lineup of people in order to see if they can identify the perpetrator. This photo lineup may take place some time after the initial incident.
In most cases, there is more evidence presented in a criminal case than a simple selection from a lineup. However, a witness identification can also spark police to build a case around a suspect that may be innocent of the crime. In other cases, witnesses select people chosen as "fillers" who are known to be innocent or say that a guilty suspect was not there. Some of these wrongful identifications have led to improper convictions that have put people behind bars for years.
Therefore, many researchers want to understand more about eyewitness testimony in order to prevent inaccurate and damaging identifications. There are a number of factors that may reflect whether an identification made by an eyewitness is correct or not, including his or her level of confidence, speed in making a selection and eye movements while viewing the photos or people. While many researchers say that high confidence is a strong indicator of accuracy, others warn that few lineups in real life are conducted under pristine study conditions, meaning that many more identifications may be flawed.
Despite their flaws, juries often believe eyewitness identifications. People who are facing criminal charges can work with a criminal defense attorney to challenge a or invalidate a police lineup and other types of prosecution evidence.