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“The annals of criminal law are rife with instances of mistaken identification”

Dec 21, 2006 “The annals of criminal law are rife with instances of mistaken identification”

At a bench trial several years ago, a judge emphatically confirmed how much reliance he puts on witnesses who emphatically and — seemingly credibly — state "that’s the one" who committed the crime.

Such an assertion flies in the face of the Supreme Court’s logical confirmation 37 years ago that "The vagaries of eyewitness identification are well-known; the annals of criminal law are rife with instances of mistaken identification." U.S. v. Wade, 388 U.S. 218, 229 (1967).

DNA evidence confirms that misidentification too often continues to result in wrongful convictions. For instance, "[a]ccording to the Innocence Project, 183 people nationwide have been exonerated through DNA testing, and eyewitness misidentification was a factor in 75 percent of those wrongful convictions."

What to do? We need vigorous and capable criminal defense at every turn, regardless of the defendants’ ability to pay. We need to eliminate such abysmally low-paying court-appointed criminal defense systems as Virginia’s. We need to refuse to sweep the injustice of misidentification under the rug.

Jon Katz.

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