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.


4 responses to “Eyewitnesses Are Often Wrong

  1. Mr. Locke, Thanks for the great information. The charts are most helpful.

  2. Pingback: The Unreliability of Eyewitnesses |

  3. Pingback: Jennifer Thompson Promotes the Justice for All Act | Wrongful Convictions Blog

  4. Phil Locke, I JUST LOVE the little story’s that you write!!! However I ALSO like the story’s that Nancy Petro write’s as well!!! You ALL do such WONDERFUL WORK and it’s so informative and EDUCATIONAL. I just wanted to let you know that I appreciate you and your colleagues. Thank you for all of the time and effort that go’s into these story’s. :-).

    As I was writing this I just happened to think about something. I would prefer not to put what’s on my mind for all of the common public to see though. Can you please email me so I can share with you what’s on my mind in more of a private setting please.

    Thank you, Cindy Smith. 🙂

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