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Eyewitness testimony can lead to wrongful convictions

Cases of wrongfully convicted defendants proven innocent through DNA technology years later have captured the attention of many in Charlotte and across the country. One factor that has emerged as a repeated concern in several of these cases has been the original reliance on eyewitness identification. DNA technology has been critical in providing direct, physical evidence that has cleared many - and implicated others - especially in cases of rape and murder. However, even with today's DNA technology, eyewitness identification can be a major concern in criminal cases. This is especially true in cases that do not involve DNA evidence.

Advocates and even police departments have sought to reform the eyewitness identification policies of many law enforcement agencies in order to cut down on mistaken identifications in criminal cases. Both photo sets and live lineups can be conducted in ways that are likely to lead to errors. Human memory is fallible and plastic; it can be shaped by subsequent information. This means that an eyewitness can grow more confident over time about an initially shaky identification.

When shown a set of photos, witnesses will often choose someone who resembles the person they saw; they may not see anyone who matches their memory precisely. When they are then shown live people in a lineup, they may make their identification based on the information from the photo set. In addition, cross-racial identification can be particularly problematic, as studies show that people are less able to correctly identify people of other racial backgrounds.

When facing criminal charges, it is critical to be able to present a strong defense that challenges the assertions of the police and prosecution. This can include challenging eyewitness testimony as well as other types of evidence. A criminal defense attorney may be able to defend a person's rights and avoid a conviction before trial and in the courtroom.

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