The National Registry of Exonerations is a jointly run organization by Michigan State University, the University of Michigan and a university in another state. They determined that almost a third of the 2,245 people who were exonerated since 1989 were convicted for felonies based on mistaken identities. A significant number of these wrongful convictions were overturned upon presentation of post-conviction DNA evidence. An organization in another state called the Innocence Project focuses mostly on sex crimes and homicides. It claims that eyewitness misidentification was a factor in 71 percent of exonerations.
In January, a 58-year-old man walked away from a prison where he was incarcerated for 38 years after DNA evidence proved that he was not the person who raped a 39-year-old woman in 1979. According to the Innocence Project, this man was sentenced to life without parole after a witness identified him with certainty at the trial. They say that this was nearly a year after she tentatively picked him out of a police lineup. This method of identification has been questioned for many years.
Researchers say police departments rarely have formal eyewitness identification protocols, and the methods used vary considerably from one police department to the next. The IP notes that no one’s memory is fixed and that it can be affected by later stimuli. Even the body language of an officer at an identification lineup can influence a witness unconsciously. Although the first exoneration in the United States based on DNA evidence happened as far back as 1989, police lineups continue to be heavily relied upon in the courts.
Anyone in Michigan who is wrongfully convicted and sentenced for felonies should seek the help of an experienced federal criminal appeals attorney immediately. There is no need to stay behind bars for years for an erroneous conviction. A skilled attorney can start an investigation without delay, and pursue all avenues to achieve the most favorable outcome.