The Fallibility of Eyewitness Identification: A Real-Life Example from a Misdemeanor Battery Case

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to defend a client in a misdemeanor battery case that highlighted the disturbing unreliability of eyewitness identification. The incident in question involved a bar fight in which the supposed victim couldn't identify his attacker due to being jumped by multiple individuals and losing consciousness. The prosecution's key witness was a bartender who claimed to have seen my client single-handedly attacking the victim.

As I sat down with the witness, I asked him a series of questions to gauge the credibility of his identification. He revealed that he had not been shown a photo lineup and had not previously known or seen the attacker before or after the incident. When asked if he would recognize the attacker now, he confidently claimed he would. I then pointed to a random person in the courtroom, who bore no resemblance to my client, and asked if that was the attacker. To my dismay, the witness positively identified the random stranger as the attacker!

After a brief discussion with the prosecutor, the case was dismissed. But it begs the question, what if the witness had first identified my client at the defense table? And how many innocent individuals are currently serving time in prison due to this type of flawed identification process? It's clear that our current rules and procedures surrounding eyewitness identification desperately need an overhaul to prevent miscarriages of justice.