Eyewitnesses often have important roles in criminal cases. These witnesses may be able to point out a suspect. Unfortunately, some lineups lead to misidentification. This can happen for several different reasons.
One of the most common reasons, however, may be that memory may not be a reliable source.
The problem of emotion and memory
Emotion may not create reliable memories. According to Neuroscience News, many share a common belief that emotions can enhance memory. They believe that emotion creates flashbulb memories; memories that are accurate like a photograph. Studies show that when given photos to evoke negative, positive and neutral emotions, students tend to remember the negative pictures. They are also more likely to falsely claim a negative photo was in the original group.
Emotions can cause people to have false memories. After a person experiences a traumatic event, if he or she must identify a person in a lineup, he or she may be more likely to identify the wrong person. If given a lineup without the suspect, he or she may still choose someone.
The dilemma of eyewitness testimony
While eyewitness testimony is convincing to the jury, it is not necessarily accurate. The Association for Psychological Science suggests that eyewitness testimony is convincing because people trust their own experiences and perceptions.
The reality is that eyewitness testimony leads to a large percentage of wrongful convictions. The Innocence Project studied 358 cases since 1989. Juries convicted and sentenced these people to death, but later exonerated because of DNA evidence. 71% of these cases, the defendant’s conviction hinged on eyewitness misidentification.