People convicted of a crime may not be guilty

People who are charged with committing a crime may inadvertently be erroneously convicted even though they are innocent.

While thousands of people spend time in prisons and jails across New York, not all of them are guilty of committing a crime. Wrongful conviction is a problem in the United States that is drawing more attention, as the media continually sheds light on this troubling issue. According to the Innocence Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to exonerating people who have been wrongfully convicted of a crime, 353 innocent people have been set free. This leaves many wondering how innocent people are made to spend years, sometimes decades behind bars.

Eyewitness testimony

It is alarming how much weight is placed on eyewitness identification in a criminal trial. In one study, a jury was shown circumstantial evidence regarding a robbery-murder case. After viewing the facts, only 18 percent of the jurors found the defendant guilty of committing a crime. In a second trial, the jury was shown the exact same circumstantial evidence. However, in this case, testimony from a single eyewitness was given, placing the defendant at the scene of the crime. In this scenario, 72 percent jurors came back with a guilty verdict.

Why is eyewitness testimony unreliable?

There are several reasons why eyewitness identification is not always reliable. Procedures used to obtain an identification may lead the witness to select an innocent person. For example, the witness may be prompted by the lineup administrator to choose a certain person, or other factors may come into play, such as racial recognition. This phenomenon explains why people who are asked to identify a person of another race may not be able to recognize certain facial characteristics as well as they would if they were identifying a person of their own race.

Flaws in memory may also be to blame. The length of time that has elapsed from when the crime occurred, as well as environmental influences, such as lighting and the distance the person was standing from the suspect, can all play a role in the reliability of the selection.

Case in point

A Brooklyn man who was 17 when he was erroneously charged and convicted of rape and robbery, was released at the age of 46 years. The case was reopened and the evidence obtained in 1987 was reexamined. There was no physical evidence linking the man to the crime; however, a single eyewitness testimony was used to find him guilty. Experts found that the eyewitness identification in the case was flawed after learning more about misidentification and issues involving memory.

Finding dependable legal counsel

If you have been charged with a crime in New York, you may want to speak to a criminal defense attorney regarding your legal rights. A lawyer may be helpful in exploring all of your legal options, and making crucial decisions during this difficult time.