Last week, the Detroit Free Press published an important editorial concerning the problems with eye witness testimony and the serious flaws that occur that may lead to innocent people being sent to jail for sex crimes and other criminal acts they didn’t commit. As explained by David Moran, a professor at the University of Michigan’s Innocence Clinic, “Of the more than 250 people exonerated by DNA evidence in the last 20 years, 75% had been erroneously identified by eyewitnesses.”
As an example, the article pointed to Ken Wyniemko who spent 14 years in a Macomb County jail for a rape he didn’t commit after the victim identified him in a lineup. Wyniemko was eventually cleared by DNA evidence and a man who looked nothing like Wyniemko was charged. The man implicated by DNA evidence was 17-years-younger, taller and significiantly heavier.
A recent New Jersey Supreme Court Case, State v. Henderson, recognized the dangers of eyewitness testimony as unreliable and often subject to suggestive influences that may alter his of her mental image of the perpetrator to match the defendant. As noted in the editorial, the landmark New Jersey Supreme Court decision states “We are convinced from the scientific evidence in the record that memory is malleable, and that an array of variable can affect and dilute the memory and lead to misidentifications.”