Pittsburgh criminal defense attorney discusses mistakes made with witnesses
Most lawyers’ first mistake is usually to attack the credibility of a sympathetic crime victim and witnesses who believe that they have pointed out the correct perpetrator in court. This strategy generally fails in front of empathetic jurors. My recommended approach, in addition to using expert witness identification, is that lawyers should express that same empathy toward the victims, while also pointing out as many factors as possible that could contribute toward a misidentifying the culprit. Some of these factors include poor lighting, weapons, being under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and whether or not the victim and suspect are of similar stature. After these factors are established, the defense attorney should attack the identification procedures used by detectives, which are usually fallible. Police often fail to instruct witnesses that the suspect might or might not be present in a lineup or photographs. Witnesses are more likely to incorrectly identify someone when they are operating on the assumption that police know or suspect who has committed a crime. The preferred method inform the witness that the suspect may actually not be shown. Police detectives often use a simultaneous lineup or series of photographs where suspects and people who look similar to the suspects, called "fillers," are all shown at the same time. This technique often causes witnesses to use relative judgment, comparing the pictures of all individuals to each other rather than to their own memory of the suspect. Because of this, if the criminal is not in the series of photographs, police may end up arresting someone who just looks like him or her. Instead, witnesses should be shown individual pictures. When detectives are conducting picture interviews, it is generally the lead investigator who knows the identity of the true suspect who is in charge. Because of this, some detectives prompt witnesses to identify the person believes to have been involved on purpose. Instead, a double-blind procedure should be administered wherein the detective doesn’t know who the suspect is and are unable to give cues as to who should and should not be selected.