Wrongful Convictions and the Utilization of Eyewitness Accounts
Everyone working in the criminal justice system has a responsibility to maintain high ethical standards at all time while discharging their duties. The defense attorney must ensure that the clients give factual testimonies before the court so as not to obstruct justice. Further, they have a responsibility to ensure that their clients rectify any fraudulent testimony in their submissions. Similarly, the prosecutor also has a responsibility to provide honest and accurate statements to the court. Giving misleading information is likely to result in the sentence of wrong person which goes against the fundamental principle of the system. Just like the two officers, prosecutor and defense attorney, judges must also maintain high moral standards as they have final say in the whole process. Particularly, they must show impartiality, refraining from interest groups and make their rulings anchored on the law.
Eyewitness accounts are one of the primary sources of evidence that both the prosecutor and defense attorney relies on to persuade the judges to make rulings in their favor. However, the accounts are one of the leading causes of wrongful conviction in the United States. For instance, nearly 75 percent of all the cases exonerated by DNA test resulted from error in eyewitness accounts (The Innocence Project. Eyewitness Misidentification, 2014). In another scenario, two researchers established that misidentification due to error occurred in 667(76 percent) cases out of the 873 analyzed from the National Registry of Exoneration (Gross & Shaffer, 2012). Another study conducted in the same subject revealed that nearly 50 percent of the innocent suspects are convicted due to wrongful conviction (Smith & Cutler, 2013).
The above statistics indicates the threats error in eyewitness accounts has on delivery of justice to the suspects. Consequently, it is necessary for the judicial officers to cross-examine the person giving accounts to ensure the integrity of their statements. However, cross-examination must be executed with caution as they can also result in interfering with memory of the witness leading to wrong accounts. The wrong accounts are likely to result in wrong ruling by the judges which exonerates the criminals while sending the innocents behind bars.
Minimizing the threats by error in eyewitness to the delivery justice require that all the judicial officials work in together to only provide credible witnesses before the court. The jurors and other legal professionals must have adequate knowledge on determining factors that influence the credibility of eye witness accounts and apply them in given case. Studies by different scholars have revealed that significant numbers of jurors are not adequately equipped to establish eyewitness factors (Wise, Sartori, Magnussen, & Safer, 2014). However, the knowledge varies from one country to another or based on the question posed by the researchers (Wise, Sartori, Magnussen, & Safer, 2014).
Some studies have also raised questions on the ability of judges to make accurate assessment of the testimonies and establish loopholes. As a result, the judges rely on the jurors to determine the credibility of the statements. As noted earlier, studies have indicated that the jurors too are also ill equipped to determine the factors influencing credibility of the accounts. The dependability between these two judicial officers (with limited ability of establishing the eyewitness credibility) increases the risks of sentencing innocent individual.
In summary, eyewitness accounts play an essential role criminal justice system. However, it also exposes the suspects to unfair judgment in scenarios where the witnesses provide inaccurate accounts. Therefore, it is necessary for all the judicial officers to have hold high moral standards and also get trained on establishing credibility of eyewitness account.
The Innocence Project. Eyewitness Misidentification. (2014). Retrieved September 11, 2018, from http://www.innocenceproject.org/understand/Eyewitness-Misidentification.php
Gross, S., & Shaffer, M. (2012). Exonerations in the United States, 1989-2012: Report by the National Registry of Exoneration. Retrieved September 11, 2018, from http://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/Documents/exonerations_us_1989_2012_full_report.pdf
Smith, A., & Cutler, B. (2013). Introduction: identification procedures and conviction of the innocent. In: Cutler BL, editor. , editor. Reform of Eyewitness Identification Procedures. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Wise, R., Sartori, G., Magnussen, S., & Safer, M. A. (2014). An Examination of the Causes and Solutions to Eyewitness Error. Front Psychiatry,5.102.