Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Beam me up, Scotty!

What’s the most famous quote from “Star Trek?”

If you were thinking, “Beam me up, Scotty,” you’re like most people. The problem is, that line was never uttered by Captain Kirk, or any other cast member. But, perhaps due to slogans on T-shirts or bumper stickers, people perceive that to be the most memorable quote.

Perception and memory do not always mirror reality, says Prof. Keith A. Findley, of the Innocence Project at the University of Wisconsin Law School. He offered the “Star Trek” example at the State Bar of Wisconsin Annual Convention in Madison, to educate about the dangers of excessive reliance upon eyewitness identifications.(...)

Findley cited a 1999 study that found that approximately 75,000 people become criminal defendants every year, largely on the basis of eyewitness identifications. Moreover, looking just at the cases of the 216 persons who’ve been exonerated of crimes by postconviction DNA testing alone from the work of Innocence Projects across the nation, the eyewitness identification played a role in almost 80 percent of these wrongful convictions.

Wrongful Convictions

No one can really know how many innocent people are in prisons, he observed. But one compelling estimate comes from a 2004 study from Virginia, which randomly selected 31 prisoners convicted of sexual assault for DNA testing and found that two were innocent.
“If that holds up across the board, and we don’t known that it would, that would be about a 6 percent error rate, and significantly, both of those cases involved eyewitness error. It’s a serious problem in the criminal justice system,” Findley said. (...)

The people making these misidentifications are not ill-motived; “These are not people who are liars, who are intentionally committing perjury; they are people who honestly believe in their eyewitness identifications, and they’re just flat wrong about them,” Findley said.(...)

Please read the complete article in the Wisconsin Law Journal

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