Chicago – As most of us know by now, eyewitness identifications are notoriously bad. Mistaken identifications by eyewitnesses account for the vast majority, roughly 85%, of wrongful convictions, according to some reports. Eyewitness misidentification is considered the single greatest cause of wrongful convictions. The State of Illinois alone has in fact released 21 individuals erroneously convicted and sentenced to death since 1993.
As the United States Supreme Court has long recognized, “[T]he vagaries of eyewitness identification are well known; the annals of criminal law are rife with instances of mistaken identification. Mr. Justice Frankfurter once said: ‘What is the worth of identification testimony even when uncontradicted? The identification of strangers is proverbially untrustworthy. The hazards of such testimony are established by a formidable number of instances in the records of English and American trials.” United States v. Wade.
Well Illinois is moving in the right direction to improve eyewitness identifications. Illinois’ new lineup procedure statute, 725 ILCS 5/107A-2, encourages many practices, unless not practical, thereby giving the police a way out if not followed.
The new procedures however, call for an independent administrator, and an automated computer program, that can automatically display the lineup in a manner that prevents the administrator from seeing the photographs the witness is viewing until after the lineup has been completed. The program will also randomly number and shuffle the photographs, then present them to the eyewitness. The new law also calls for a video recording of the lineup procedure.