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Eyewitness Identification Field Studies

Mistaken eyewitness identification is the leading cause of wrongful conviction of innocent people in the United States. The significant role that mistaken eyewitness identifications (EWID) have played in convictions of the innocent has led to a strong interest in finding ways to reduce eyewitness identification errors.

Since 2008, the American Judicature Society’s Center for Forensic Science and Public Policy, in collaboration with the Innocence Project, the Police Foundation, and the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing, have been engaged in an effort to examine eyewitness identification procedures in the field, namely the reliability of simultaneous versus sequential lineups administered under double-blind conditions using laptop computers.

The primary variable tested in the EWID Field Studies is sequential versus simultaneous presentation of photo lineups under double-blind administration (in which the lineup administrator is not aware of the identity of the suspect). A specially-designed proprietary software program will enable scientists to examine the primary research question and improve the accuracy of data collection. In addition, the program will allow witnesses to self-administer the photo lineup using laptop computer. 

The EWID Field Studies are being administered in two separate but equally important phases. During the first phase of the EWID Field Studies, administered by the American Judicature Society, scientists gathered and analyzed data from approximately 1,200 actual eyewitness identifications. The analysis of data collected across four sites--the Austin (TX) Police Department, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg (NC) Police Department, the Tucson (AZ) Police Department, and the San Diego (CA) Police Department--has been completed and a report was issued in September 2011, A Test of the Simultaneous vs. Sequential Lineup Methods: An Initial Report of the AJS National Eyewitness Identification Field Studies.

The Police Foundation is currently leading the second phase, which has two purposes: (1) to validate the Phase I EWID study by assessing judicial outcomes and case strength ratings; and (2) to experimentally examine the extent to which knowledge of a positive ID, ID of a “filler” in a lineup, or failure to identify a suspect in a lineup influences evaluation of other evidence in a case. The study is being carried out in conjunction with the Austin Police Department and the Travis County District Attorney’s Office in Texas.