A Wisconsin man was released from prison after spending 20 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit. Even after 16 alibi witnesses testified to having seen the man with his family close to the time the crime was committed, a jury found him guilty after the victim chose the innocent man out of a photo lineup. 

Eyewitness misidentification is a huge issue for people in Wisconsin and throughout the nation. The multitude of factors that affect the accuracy of the ID makes it difficult to believe judges and jurors would convict based off this unreliable form of identification. Yet thousands of people are sent to prison based on eyewitness identifications alone. The Innocence Project has helped to exonerate more than 360 people, after extensive testing of DNA evidence showed they were actually innocent of committing a crime. Eyewitness misidentification was involved in at least 71% of these cases. Why is this identification method so unreliable? 

Environmental factors at the scene of the crime can influence a witness’s ability to choose the perpetrator from a lineup. These include the following: 

  • The amount of light present at the crime scene when the incident occurred 
  • The distance the witness was standing from the actual incident 
  • The amount of time that has lapsed from when the incident took place 
  • Whether the perpetrator used any disguises 
  • Whether the perpetrator’s race is different than the witness 
  • Whether a weapon was used during the crime 

It is essential that the lineup administrator does not know about the crime so he or she does not lead the witness in any way. Furthermore, the lineup should have more than one filler who matches the suspect’s description. Witnesses should never feel pressured to make a selection, and told that the suspect may not be present in the lineup at all. Finally, officers should tape the entire procedure so the judge and/or jurors have access to the process.