Identifying who committed the crime is one element of proof in most criminal cases. There are several different methods of identification. First , the person knows the accused. Second , the police may use a lineup or show up to identify a defendant, Third , the defendant may be identified in open court by the alleged victim. Recent statistics from the Innocence Project illustrate this problem.
Eyewitness misidentification is the single greatest cause of wrongful convictions nationwide, playing a role in more than 75% of convictions overturned through DNA testing.
While eyewitness testimony can be persuasive evidence before a judge or jury, 30 years of strong social science research has proven that eyewitness identification is often unreliable. Research shows that the human mind is not like a tape recorder; we neither record events exactly as we see them, nor recall them like a tape that has been rewound. Instead, witness memory is like any other evidence at a crime scene; it must be preserved carefully and retrieved methodically, or it can be contaminated.
How do Tennessee court’s instruct on identification problems at trial ? The following is from the Tennessee Pattern Jury Instructions on identification;
One of the issues in this case is the identification of the defendant as the person who committed the crime. The state has the burden of proving identity beyond a reasonable doubt. Identification testimony is an expression of belief or impression by the witness, and its value may depend upon your consideration of several factors. Some of the factors which you may consider are:(1) The witness’ capacity and opportunity to observe the offender. This includes, among other things, the length of time available for observation, the distance from which the witness observed, the lighting, and whether the person who committed the crime was a prior acquaintance of the witness;(2) The degree of certainty expressed by the witness regarding the identification and the circumstances under which it was made, including whether it is the product of the witness’ own recollection;(3) The occasions, if any, on which the witness failed to make an identification of the defendant, or made an identification that was inconsistent with the identification at trial; and(4) The occasions, if any, on which the witness made an identification that was consistent with the identification at trial, and the circumstances surrounding such identifications.