“That’s the man” isn’t always right

A crime victim’s identification of the defendant — “I’ll never forget that face” — is often all a jury needs to hear to convict. Plenty of research has shown, however, that such identifications — which are based on recollections from highly traumatic incidents — can be flawed.

The victim may be certain; but certainly may be wrong. The National Registry of Exonerations lists 571 cases in which defendants convicted on evidence that included mistaken identifications were later exonerated. An Injustice Watch board member, Jennifer Thompson, herself became devoted to correcting injustices after discovering that she had been certain, and wrong, about the identity of the man who raped her.

So we noted with interest today the Chicago Tribune article on the case of Marco Lopez, who was found not guilty of a double murder in Palatine by a Cook County jury last week after the jury heard testimony from an expert that the eyewitness who testified he saw Lopez flee the scene may have been mistaken.

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The door for that testimony was opened by the Illinois Supreme Court, when in January it overturned the murder conviction of Eduardo Lerma because the judge in Lerma’s case had refused to permit an expert to testify about the frailties of identification.

As the Tribune quoted Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli, “People make mistakes. They get it wrong and convince themselves they’re right.”