Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Batting .333 Might be Great in Baseball...

but would you trust a witness with your freedom who could be wrong one-third of the time?

That's the subject of an article in Tuesday's New York Times, entitled Often Wrong but Rarely in Doubt: Eyewitness IDs Will Get a Fresh Look.

Among the more interesting findings:

Mistaken identifications lead to wrongful convictions. Of the first 250 DNA exonerations, 190 involved eyewitnesses who were wrong, as documented in “Convicting the Innocent,” a recent book by Brandon L. Garrett, a law professor at the University of Virginia. 

Many of those witnesses were as certain as they were wrong. “There is absolutely no question in my mind,” said one. Another was “120 percent” sure. A third said, “That is one face I will never forget.” A fourth allowed for a glimmer of doubt: “This is the man, or it is his twin brother.”

The Supreme Court will take up the issue of eyewitness testimony in its upcoming term, mainly as a way of offering guidance to judges on what kind testimony is constitutional. As a larger issue, though, the odds of getting an ID wrong is a chilling reminder that as sure as we are of our senses, they often let us down at crucial moments.

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