Category Archives: Eyewitness identification

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

Report on Eyewitness Identification Released by National Academy of Sciences…

Short summary of its findings, and link to full report, available here.

Singapore Court of Appeal’s observations on witness body language

This post is slightly late but relates to an interesting development in Singapore. In May 2014, the Singapore Court of Appeal issued interesting observations about witness body language (here). While those observations were made in the context of a civil case, they will be particularly relevant for criminal cases. Citing scientific studies on how nervousness is often misinterpreted as deceitfulness, the court held: “Put simply, therefore, the demeanour of a witness on the witness stand is not invariably a conclusive indicator of deception. “

An insightful media report on this by Andy Ho may be found here.

 

In prison since 2003, yet authorities knew man wrongfully convicted in 2007

Shocking news coming from Spain, where it has become clear that a Dutch citizen, Romano van der Dussen, convicted in 2005 of a series of sexual assaults, REMAINS in prison, despite DNA proving his innocence in 2007.

Spanish authorities have had van der Dussen in prison since the rapes took place in 2003. He was found guilty on – now definitively erroneous – eyewitness identifications (with no other links between the suspect and the crimes) in 2005. 1410717812_066741_1410798646_sumario_normal

ven der Dussen, the photofit, and Mark Dixie

However, in 2007, INTERPOL were informed by British police, that convicted murderer Mark Dixie – serving a life sentence for the rape and murder of 17 year old model Sally Ann Bowman in the UK – had previously lived in Malaga in 2002-2003. Spanish authorities uploaded the DNA obtained from the sexual assaults, and subsequently received a report in March 2007 that the DNA from the scenes matched British murdered and serial offender Mark Dixie.

One might expect that in 2007, Spanish authorities – horrified that they were keeping an innocent man behind bars, would move swiftly to ensure his release. Instead, the case has bounced around the legal system, delayed by legal technicalities. His solicitor is now awaiting fingerprints and DNA of Dixie from British authorities to proceed further with securing the release of van der Dussen. ELEVEN years since his imprisonment, and SEVEN years since the authorities discovered his innocence. What can the Spanish possibly be doing?

Read more here:
Dutchman in Spanish jail waits for DNA justice

Fuengirola court reopens sexual assault case

Spanish authorities reopen Dutchman’s rape case

There are more detailed reports in Spanish and Dutch e.g.:
En la cárcel pese a las pruebas de ADN

Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…

Eyewitnesses Are Often Wrong

We’ve commented before on this blog about how unreliable eyewitness testimony can be — see here, here, here, and here.

The US justice system gives great credence to eyewitness identification, and an eyewitness identification will even trump an airtight alibi in court.  But according to the most recent data from the National Registry of Exonerations, false or mistaken eyewitness identification is a contributing factor in 36% of wrongful convictions:

NRE graph

Here is a brief CNN clip, featuring cognitive psychologist Prof. Elizabeth Loftus of the University of California, Irvine and the University of Washington, giving some examples of faulty eyewitness testimony: Eyewitnesses Are Often Wrong.

If you would like a real “eye opener” on the subject, I recommend the book Picking Cotton by Ronald Cotton and Jennifer Thompson-Cannino.  The book details an instance in which the victim had close, lengthy, one-on-one contact with the perpetrator, and still got the eyewitness identification wrong – multiple times.

 

New Scholarship Spotlight: In Defense of American Criminal Justice

The Honorable J. Harvie Wilkinson III of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has published the above-titled article in the Vanderbilt Law Review.  It argues that the system is not nearly as broken as many critics allege, some convictions of innocents is part of a necessary trade-off, and that the reforms pushed by the Innocence Movement often go to far.

Have a read here.