Almost 100 people a year convicted as a result of unreliable eyewitness evidence, new study claims
Almost 100 people a year are convicted of a violent or sexual crime that they did not commit as a result of unreliable eyewitness evidence, a new study has claimed.
It is reckoned that almost three-quarters of convictions that are subsequently discovered to be false (72%) relied on inaccurate eyewitness statements. According to the research project conducted by Dara Mojtahedi, an investigative psychologist at the University of Huddersfield, every year in the UK almost 100 people ‘will be convicted of a violent or sexual crime that they did not commit, on the basis of an eyewitness statement’. ‘And in 48% of the cases of misidentification, the real perpetrator will carry on committing their crimes, so that more people are at risk of being violently attacked,’ he added.
The research comprises a series of experiments involving some 800 participants and includes one study which screened footage of an actual bar fight to groups of ‘witnesses’ including dummy eyewitnesses, actors who deliberately planted to suggest that the wrong man had started the fight.
‘The results showed that when there was someone relaying false information, other eyewitnesses were accepting it as their own and using it in their own statements,’ Mojtahedi said. Even in the sessions where there were no dummy witness and no discussion close to one third of participants (32%) managed to identify the wrong man mainly due to factors such as ‘faulty memory’. In groups that did include an actor, the mistake rate shot up to close to three-quarters (73%). Some groups of five included four actors giving the wrong information and the mistake rate was as high as 95%.
Jon is editor of the Justice Gap. He is a freelance journalist. Jon's books include The First Miscarriage of Justice (Waterside Press, 2014), The Justice Gap (LAG, 2009) and People Power (Daily Telegraph/LawPack, 2008). Jon is a journalism lecturer at Winchester University and a visiting senior fellow in access to justice at the University of Lincoln. He is twice winner of the Bar Council's journalism award (2015 and 2005) and is shortlisted for this year's Criminal Justice Alliance's journalism award