Mistaken IDs Spur Most Bad Convictions

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A study of 200 wrongful convictions has found that most were the result of mistaken eyewitness identifications.

Bad witness IDs occurred in 79 percent of the cases studied, Adam Liptak reports in his Sidebar column for the New York Times (sub. req.). The next leading cause of wrongful convictions was faulty forensic evidence, found in 55 percent of the cases.

The author of the study is law professor Brandon Garrett of the University of Virginia. His analysis of the findings will be published in January in the Columbia Law Review.

The study’s release coincides with a bid for a commuted sentence by George death-row inmate Troy Anthony Davis, the Atlanta-Journal Constitution reports. Prosecutors relied on eyewitness testimony to convict Davis of shooting and killing a policeman in a Burger King parking lot in Savannah, Ga.

Seven out of nine witnesses who implicated Davis have recanted. (See this ABAJournal.com post for details.)

“The case relied on eyewitness testimony,” Danielle Garten, one of Davis’ lawyers, told the Journal-Constitution. “There was no weapon found. There was no physical evidence.”

Jeffrey S. Neuschatz, an eyewitness identification expert from University of Alabama, found several flaws in Davis’ case. One witness had seen Davis’ picture in the newspaper before she identified him and another had been drinking on the night of the crime. Neuschatz’s report has been filed with the state parole board, which is weighing the request to commute Davis’ death sentence to life in prison.

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