The National Registry of Exonerations recently released an updated report detailing the state of exonerations in the United States from 1989 to 2012. In total, 1,050 exonerations have been recorded by the Registry, and mistaken eyewitness identification was a contributing factor in 43 percent of these cases, trailing only perjury, which was a factor in 51 percent of cases. Most notably, misidentification played the biggest role in wrongful convictions for sexual assault and robbery. Illinois, New York and Texas made up the three states with the highest number of exonerations.
Samuel Gross and Rob Warden, in writing the original report for the Registry in 2012, admit that this number is almost insignificant compared to the millions of Americans who are in prisons across the country. However, they point to a more alarming conclusion - that the number of false convictions exceeds the number of exonerations, and hence, the number of exonerations may reveal only a portion of a larger issue that is unknown to us.
Because of this, it is time for courts and law enforcement to implement changes to identification practices. Although a fundamental change in the way lineups are conducted may be out of the question, there are still potential solutions to misidentification. For one, jurisdictions should consider standardizing practices and providing better training on conducting photographic and live lineups. A number of sources have also pushed for improved juror instructions that guide the jury toward making more informed evaluations of the accuracy of eyewitness testimonies.
Researching eyewitness identification this semester has taught me that good research, like anything in life, takes persistence, determination and discipline. Doing good research on a topic requires dedication, not only to building a foundation of knowledge about that topic, but also to learning more about it as it appears in the news. Another thing I learned is to be open to new ways of exploring a topic. I have modified my research question six times in three months, not so much out of uncertainty but because I gained a better picture of what the issue was and how it should be overcome.
I have also come to understand how important it is to cite references properly. Not only do they provide support for my arguments, but they also help readers (and researchers) find other related sources to read. I have found that the easiest way to keep track of sources is to create a three-columned table in Microsoft Word and fill it in with the source's full citation and a summary of the source's main points.
I'm excited to have you read my final paper! Thank you for following this topic and for reading my blog - I promise there will be more to come! (P.S. Keep an eye out for it next week..)