- The caption of my week thus far
This week, the class is working on completing annotations for seven of our sources. Hence, I thought it would be a good time to write a quick recap of what I've learned about eyewitness identification, and where my final paper might end up.
We are all familiar with the popular crime show police lineups on TV, but the topic of eyewitness identification is much broader than that. For instance, an ID can be made in several ways. One is the (suggestive) method known as a showup. In a showup, an investigator presents one suspect or photo of the suspect to the eyewitness of a crime, who identifies the person as the criminal or not. Lineups, on the other hand, involve placing the suspect, or person the police think is the culprit, among four or five "fillers", or visually similar individuals who are innocent. Lineups can be broken down further into live and photo lineups, and sequential and simultaneous lineups.
The issue with eyewitness identification is how courts distinguish reliable IDs from unreliable IDs. This distinction is a crucial part to upholding justice because misidentifications, or a positive ID of a suspect in a police investigation who is actually innocent, are the leading cause of wrongful convictions in the U.S.
A defendant can call the reliability of an eyewitness ID into question before it is presented to a jury at trial. This reflects the admissibility of the evidence. Courts generally follow the federal precedent of Manson v. Brathwaite, also known as the Manson reliability test, to determine if an ID is reliable enough to be admitted in front of a jury. The test is two-pronged - in the first part, the court determines if the ID was made under unnecessarily suggestive, police-orchestrated procedures. If the ID was not made under suggestive procedures, it is immediately admissible. If the ID was made under unduly suggestive circumstances, it is then scrutinized based on five factors of reliability - the attention of the witness during the crime, how well the witness could have viewed the culprit, the completeness of the description given by the eyewitness, the time elapsed between the crime and the ID, and the certainty of the witness in his or her ID. If the ID scores well on these factors, it is almost always admitted to trial.
However, decades of psychological research in the field have shown that the Manson test may be flawed. Wells and Quinlivan (2009), for example, assert that the certainty of an eyewitness can be influenced by suggestive procedures, and hence it is not completely independent from part one of the Manson test. Furthermore, in Perry v. New Hampshire, a recent case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, the majority of the justices agreed that the ID made was not unnecessarily suggestive because it was not the result of police misconduct. This then raises doubts about the effectiveness of Manson, given that the factors of reliability it tests can be inflated by suggestive procedures, and that police intent is necessary in order for a suggestive ID to be even considered inadmissible.
Sinc I didn't have to find new sources for my assignment this week, I spent a lot more time reading and rereading my current sources. I've found that I can maximize efficiency by organizing my points while reading. For instance, I digitally highlight parts of articles to mark points I can use as a main assertion, points to be compared or contrasted to, or a points that demonstrate the article's strengths. Instead of highlighting in library books, though, I use sticky notes or type the points out directly on my laptop.
Unfortunately, I'm still on the lookout for an observation site for my project. I've called several prosecutors and defense attorneys in my area, in hopes of finding cases that involve eyewitness ID disputes and may go to trial within the next two weeks. I hope all goes well!