Many people behind bars in Maryland and other parts of the country are there because someone said they saw them commit particular offenses. Many people believe eyewitness testimony is one of the most compelling and convincing types of evidence in a court case. However, few forms of evidence are as accurate as DNA.
Per the Innocence Project, mistaken eyewitness accounts are so common across the nation that they have become the leading reason Americans face wrongful convictions.
How often eyewitness accounts are inaccurate
There have been more than 375 overturned convictions in America that were the result of new DNA evidence coming forward. An estimated 69% of those overturned convictions occurred after eyewitnesses fingered the wrong individual as having committed the offense. Studies show that while mistaken identifications have the potential to impact anyone, cross-racial misidentifications are even more common.
Why eyewitness accounts are often inaccurate
Some of the accuracy issues surrounding eyewitness accounts result from problems with law enforcement lineups. Sometimes, the people administering the lineup give a witness unintentional clues about who the suspect may be. Other times, the administrator conducting the lineup may not tell the witness that the suspect may or may not be present. This may lead to trouble because many witnesses assume a suspect must be among the faces they are viewing. An administrator failing to ask a witness how confident he or she is in the identification may also lead to accuracy problems in lineups.
Maryland is among many states that have agreed to adopt certain standards intended to improve the accuracy of lineups.