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False identifications can lead to criminal charges

When a crime is committed in the state of Connecticut, law enforcement typically follows strict protocol regarding the investigation process. Part of that process involves collecting evidence, interviewing any potential witnesses and identifying suspects. And while every stage of the investigation should be handled with care, it can be especially difficult to obtain accurate and reliable information from witnesses. In fact, resources like DNA evidence are beginning to expose the shortcomings and potential pitfalls of memory as it pertains to witness accounts and identifications.

In the past 25 years or so, more than 170 people have been exonerated from crimes using DNA evidence. Almost 75 percent of those wrongly convicted on criminal charges were victims of mistaken identity. Victims and witnesses of crimes can be unreliable sources when it comes to identifying a suspect since their memories may be affected and manipulated.

Factors like stress can influence how details of a situation are perceived and interpreted, which in turn affects the memory. Similarly, attention-grabbing elements like seeing a knife can prohibit someone from remembering other important details.

Witness' memories can be altered after the incident as well. Investigators may actually tamper with the witness's ability to correctly identify a suspect by offering suggestive cues to them. Another common mistake is to have witnesses pick suspects out from a line-up. If the actual suspect is not there, the witness may inadvertently pick the person that looks the most similar.

No one's memory is perfect, especially when they may be in danger or under stress. That is why information provided by a witness should not be used as primary evidence against anyone facing criminal charges.

Source: ctpost.com, "Speaker says crime witnesses not always right," Deanna Darr, March 19, 2013

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