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How mistaken identity causes many wrongful convictions

In the past two decades, more than 2,000 men and women, including some individuals in high-profile cases, have been exonerated by DNA evidence. As researchers, journalists, lawyers and civil rights groups have examined the circumstances of these wrongful convictions, mistaken identify has proven to be one of the most prevalent causes of guilty verdicts against innocent people. Activist are pushing for stricter standards when it comes to eyewitness testimony due to this discovery.

One example of a wrongful conviction coming from mistaken identity involved a San Diego resident who was found guilty of a sex crime based on the testimony of a supposed eye witness. The witness in the case identified the defendant in a lineup with 70 percent confidence. During trial, the witness said she was 100 percent confident. Another witness identified the defendant as well, but research has shown that because the defendant was a different race from the witness, mistaken identity was more likely.

Mistaken identity is common in criminal cases, according to the co-director of the California Innocence Project, due to witnesses choosing the person in the six-pack lineup who looks closest to the one they actually saw. This choice is then affirmed at trial when the witness sees the same defendant again. Activists believe that one possible solution to this problem is to have double-blind lineups where neither witnesses nor detectives know who the suspect is.

In criminal proceedings, it's the responsibility of the defendant's attorney to protect their client against factors that may lead to a wrongful conviction. A criminal defense strategy that scrutinizes tactics used by the police and prosecutors is needed in modern criminal trials. When a wrongful conviction still occurs, it's necessary to file appeals and remain vigilant in correcting the error.

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