Three fourths of prisoners who have been proven innocent by DNA were wrongly convicted by eyewitness lineups. Dr. Gary Wells, Professor of Psychology at Iowa State University has studied police lineups and the way memory affects eyewitness identification. Dr. Wells has served as an expert to aid juries in understanding the various psychological and memory aspects of eyewitness identification. His studies have proven that the standard ways of photo lineups, physical lineups, and composite sketching of an eyewitness’s identification are ineffective.
In photo and physical lineups the eyewitness tends to compare one suspect to another instead of comparing each individual suspect to their memory. Law enforcement agencies have begun to change the procedure of lineups where the eyewitness sees one suspect at a time.
Examining composite sketches or computer-produced sketches rarely produce a likeness to the actual criminal. A composite sketch involves an eyewitness to recall the perpetrator’s facial features. Dr. Wells says this is a difficult task for someone because we don't perceive faces piecemeal and we don't store them in memory as individual features, such as nose, the eyes, or the mouth.
Facial composites of criminal suspects built by a single eyewitness account often produce poor likeliness of the actual perpetrator. Where there is more than one eyewitness (as long as there are not too many), a better likeness to a suspect is created by morphing together the composites.
Dr. Wells has established certain procedures for law enforcement agencies to better preserve fair and trustworthy eyewitness identification. Law Enforcement agencies are beginning to change their eyewitness identification procedures, but we have a long way to go.
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