Reliability of Eyewitness Testimony in a Criminal Case

Texas, 1980: Cornelius Dupree, Jr. was sentenced to 75 years in prison for the rape and robbery of a 26-year-old woman. He was convicted when the victim selected his picture from several others that were presented to her at the Dallas Police Station. Despite his protestation of innocence, Cornelius Dupree, Jr. spent the next three decades in prison. He was turned down for parole three times by the state Department of Appeals.

Sounds like the legal system at work, right? But Dupree didn’t commit this crime. In 2011 Dupree was exonerated through DNA evidence and the help of the Innocence Project.

A case of mistaken identity

While this case is tragic, it is far from unique. Dupree’s case is one of mistaken identity, where the victim misidentified Dupree as her attacker. The Huffington Post reports that mistaken identity is the leading cause of wrongful convictions in the United States.

Eyewitness testimony in general is under scrutiny. According to Paul Cates of the Innocence Project, problems with eyewitness testimony are the biggest reasons that people are wrongfully convicted. Statements made by eyewitnesses to a crime can sometimes be the determining factor in whether a defendant gets prosecuted. Unfortunately, statements can be coerced, misunderstood and obtained in less than desirable circumstances.

Reevaluating the dependability of witness testimony is the driving force behind a 2011 New Jersey Supreme Court ruling in Manson v. Braithwaite that stiffened police procedure when conducting a suspect lineup and sets precedence of court consideration of a witness’s confidence in his or her identification of a suspect.

If you are facing legal trouble in Illinois, you should contact a criminal defense attorney who will be able to take you through your options.

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