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Another North Carolina Man Wrongfully Convicted Highlights Problems with Eyewitness Identification System

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In late January, yet another man who was wrongfully convicted in North Carolina was released after being incarcerated for 11 years for armed robbery. The release was one of the latest results of the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission, which has conducted a number of investigations that have resulted in 11 people being exonerated due to “clear and convincing evidence” that they were innocent. The Commission was created in 2006 and has since reviewed more than 2,000 claims of innocence throughout the state. If it finds that there is enough evidence of a convicted defendant’s innocence, it recommends a review of the defendant’s case to a three-judge panel. 

In this case, the defendant had been identified by the individual who claimed they had been robbed, resulting in the defendant being locked up until his trial. This was concerning, given that another victim who was allegedly robbed claimed that “she was so shaken up by the robbery that she probably couldn‘t identify the robber.” According to the Commission’s investigation the records showed that the victims knew the defendant, and therefore may have had other motives for identifying him in the alleged crime.

The Problem with Police Line-Ups

This defendant’s exoneration and that of many others, highlights the problems with relying on victims’ using photo lineups to identify perpetrators. It is no secret that false identifications are the leading factor on wrongful convictions. According to the Innocence Project, false eyewitness identifications have contributed to approximately 75 out of 301 convictions overturned by DNA evidence alone. Many of these defendants spend decades in jail before they are exonerated, and some will never get out.

It is shocking to learn that lineups and eyewitness identification is still relied on by a number of police departments even though it is common knowledge that memory is vulnerable to contamination, and cannot stand up to scientific scrutiny like blood and DNA evidence. In addition, the stress associated with being a crime victim, combined with the pressure to identify the person who did it by law enforcement, combines to form the perfect storm of wrongful conviction.

The Eyewitness Identification Reform Act in North Carolina: Does It Go Far Enough?

In 2007, the North Carolina General Assembly passed the Eyewitness Identification Reform Act, which requires that certain steps be implemented in administering lineups in criminal investigations. Specifically, it mandates that law enforcement provide eyewitnesses with certain instructions prior to viewing a lineup, however, clearly the law does not go far enough if the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission has already found that a number of individuals have been wrongfully convicted based on lineups.

Contact Our North Carolina Criminal Defense Attorneys to Ensure That Justice Is Done

If you have been wrongfully convicted of a crime in North Carolina, contact our experienced criminal defense attorneys at Dysart Willis today to find out how we can help get your case reviewed and have you exonerated.

Resources:

charlotteobserver.com/news/local/article224776665.html

citylab.com/equity/2013/02/problem-police-line-ups/4724/

innocencecommission-nc.gov/cases/

https://www.hauterlaw.com/north-carolina-sheriff-decides-to-end-solitary-confinement-for-juveniles-leading-to-reexamination-of-human-rights-violations-in-criminal-system/

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