Stephen Wolfe April 14, 2017

Limitations of the human memory and other systemic flaws in the judicial system can lead a witness to select an innocent person out of a lineup.

When people witness a violent crime in Ohio, they may be asked to choose the perpetrator out of a physical or photo lineup. Studies show, however, that flaws in lineup procedures and false memories can lead a witness to choose an innocent person out of the lineup. Although this choice does not immediately incriminate the person picked from the lineup, eyewitness identification makes a strong impression on the jury and judge presiding over a criminal case. In some cases, an error during the identification process can result in the conviction of an innocent person.

According to the Innocence Project, 330 people have been released from their criminal sentences after DNA testing proved that they were actually innocent of the crime they were convicted of. Approximately 10 of these cases were in Ohio. In at least 70 percent of these cases, the innocent person was wrongfully chosen out of a photo or physical lineup.

False memory

In many cases of wrongful identification, the witness inadvertently selects the wrong person due to flaws in the human memory. Research indicates that the human memory is not photographic-nor does it have the ability to remember specific details regarding a crime. Certain elements that are involved in the incident can disrupt the witnesses recollection of what really happened. According to, memories can change over time, especially if the witness is exposed to different theories about the crime. The American Bar Association reported that the following factors can also affect a person's memory about an event:

  • The amount of light that was present at the crime scene

  • How far away the witness was standing from the perpetrator

  • Whether a weapon was used during the crime

  • Whether the perpetrator was wearing a disguise

  • If the witness had any biases or prior experiences that relate to the crime and/or suspect

The Innocence Project reported that in more than half of the cases involving eyewitness misidentification, the witness was a different race than the perpetrator.

The power of eyewitness identification

One study published in a report found that juries are more likely to convict a defendant if eyewitness testimony is given during the trial. In one case, circumstantial evidence regarding a robbery-murder was given to a jury. The second trial presented the same evidence to a different jury, but added a single eyewitness identification. While only 18 percent of the jurors found the defendant guilty during the first case, 72 percent of the jurors came back with a guilty charge during the second trial.

Defending your case

Facing criminal charges can be extremely overwhelming. You may be completely unfamiliar with the legal process and feel emotional at the prospect of spending time in jail. You may want to seek legal counsel from an established defense attorney in Ohio who knows how to handle these types of cases. A criminal defense lawyer may be able to answer any questions you may have, look at the details of your case and help you choose the option that is best for you.