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Oregon criminal cases may involve eyewitness misidentification

The process of eyewitness identification has been found to be flawed in many ways and can potentially send an innocent person to prison.

Eyewitness testimony and identification can be very influential when presented in court during an Oregon criminal case. Not only can it place the defendant at the scene of the crime, but an eyewitness testimony can offer specific details about a crime that may be otherwise unknown. Yet, eyewitness identification does not always place the right suspect at the scene of the crime, and eyewitness testimony has proven to be inherently unreliable. In some cases involving misdemeanor and felony charges, these errors lead to the wrongful incrimination of an innocent person.

One Oregon man was wrongfully convicted of both attempted murder and aggravated murder, and sent to prison for life after a woman erroneously identified him as her attacker. According to the Slate, the innocent man had been parked in the couple's campsite earlier that day, and was asked to move his truck. Later that evening, the woman was shot and attacked, and her husband was killed as he tried to call 911. The woman named the man she saw earlier that day as the perpetrator. Although there was no DNA evidence or any physical evidence to prove that he had committed the crime, he was found guilty by an Oregon jury. The Oregon Supreme Court ultimately overturned the innocent man's conviction, partly because it was found that the woman had failed to pick him out of at least three photo lineups years earlier. Other errors had been discovered in the case as well.

The problem with eyewitness identification

According to the Innocence Project, 324 people have been released from prison after DNA evidence proved their innocence. Approximately 20 of these wrongfully convicted people were sitting on death row at the time of their release. Eyewitness misidentification was a factor in 72 percent of these cases. This faulty form of perpetrator identification is flawed for several reasons. These include:

  • Certain environmental conditions present at the crime scene, including the amount of light present, whether the suspect was wearing a mask and the distance the witness was standing from the suspect, may make it hard for a witness to give an accurate identification later on.
  • Multiple studies show that the human brain is incapable of remembering specific details regarding a crime, especially if there is a weapon present. Eyewitness accounts are highly susceptible to suggestion and misinterpretation.
  • Studies show that eyewitnesses are unable to accurately identify specific facial features of a suspect that is a different race than their own.
  • Flawed lineup procedures can unintentionally lead a witness to choose a specific person, regardless of whether they are the suspect or not, and alter the accuracy of the entire lineup.

The amount of time that has passed since the actual crime has taken place can also influence the reliability of an eyewitness identification and subsequent conviction.

When to call an attorney

People who have been falsely accused of a crime may be overwhelmed at the prospect of spending a significant amount of time behind bars. Criminal charges can also ruin your reputation and affect the rest of your life. An established criminal defense attorney can aggressively represent your case in court and ensure that your rights are upheld during the criminal proceedings.

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