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Home > Blog > Criminal Defense > Department of Justice Weighs in on Eyewitness Identifications
Jan 11, 2017

Department of Justice Weighs in on Eyewitness Identifications

In a refreshing sign of the times, the Justice Department’s Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates released a memo on how to better handle eyewitness identifications. These identifications are the basis for many arrests and eventual criminal convictions, and yet are fraught with inaccuracies and manipulations. By issuing the memo, Ms. Yates and the Justice Department have provided a set of procedures to huge law enforcement agencies – including the FBI and DEA – that will hopefully reign in evidence abuses.

The Importance of Eyewitness Evidence

For many crimes, some of the most damning evidence against a suspect is simply someone else who was at the scene of the crime, saying that it was the suspect who committed the act. In some criminal cases, this is the only piece of evidence against a defendant. Nevertheless, it has been shown, time and time again, that juries are willing to convict someone of a serious crime on nothing more than the eyewitness testimony of someone who says they saw it all happen.

Unfortunately, studies are coming out recently that show that eyewitness evidence is notoriously unreliable and easily manipulated.

Unreliability of Eyewitness Evidence

Despite its power in a criminal case, eyewitness evidence is unreliable. A witness is under a lot of stress that prevents them from observing well, and what they do remember can be tainted by an imperfect memory and confirmation bias. Additionally, the ways that law enforcement officers obtain eyewitness identifications – by using lineups or photo arrays – can push a witness into saying what the officer wants them to say.

Together, these issues have resulted in estimates where eyewitnesses are wrong one out of every three times.

Department of Justice Issues Memo

This is where the Department of Justice’s memo comes in. By laying out a set of procedures for federal law enforcement agencies to follow, the Department of Justice is trying to minimize the number of times that eyewitnesses slip up or are guided into a false identification by law enforcement. Each one of these identifications results in someone being suspected of a crime when they have nothing to do with it, at all.

By issuing this memo, the Department of Justice is showing that it has shifted its focus from charging someone for a crime to charging the right person for it – a refreshingly mature attitude to take.

Maine Criminal Defense Attorney William T. Bly

Eyewitness identifications are some of the most frustrating pieces of evidence that you can face in a criminal trial. There are so many different ways that an eyewitness can be mistaken or mislead by police that it can be difficult to tell if they’re telling the truth, or just think they are. That you can be convicted largely on the weight of an eyewitness’ statement against you is one of the most frustrating aspects of being charged with a crime.

That is why criminal defense attorney William T. Bly fights to protect you whenever you are charged with a crime. By challenging any and all evidence against you, he guards your rights and fights for your interests. Contact his law office online or at (207) 571-8146.

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