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Misidentification leads to many wrongful convictions

Maryland residents would like to believe that the criminal justice system is always fair. However, studies show that eyewitness misidentification often leads to wrongful convictions.

For example, the California Innocence Project announced that DNA testing recently exonerated a San Diego resident who was wrongfully convicted of rape. The victim in the case misidentified him as her perpetrator. Studies show that this type of mistake is common in criminal cases. When witnesses are shown a photo lineup of possible suspects, they tend to choose the one who most closely resembles the person they saw. When they look at a live police lineup, they tend to choose the person they identified in the photo lineup. During the trial, after seeing the defendant in the courtroom each day, they may become absolutely convinced he or she is the person they saw commit the crime. That scenario seems to have played out in the San Diego case. When the victim saw the photo lineup, she said she was 70 percent sure the eventual defendant was her rapist. Once she got to the trial, she said she was 100 percent certain he was her rapist.

Experts say that many counties now utilize double-blind sequential lineups. This keeps the suspect's identity hidden from both the witness and the officer conducting the lineup. These lineups have been shown to improve the accuracy of suspect identifications. San Diego County does not currently use this method, but it is reportedly considering its implementation.

A criminal defense attorney could help protect a defendant's rights throughout the investigation, including during a police lineup. If a defendant is identified by a witness, the attorney could dispute the accuracy of the identification and work to get the charges dismissed.

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