Mistaken eyewitness identifications were crucial in more than three-quarters of 218 wrongful convictions that have led to exonerations sicne 1991, The Innocence Project told the Associated Press. Of those, nearly half, involved someone of one race wrongly identifying someone of a different color. The American Bar Association, meeting in New York City, urged that judges have instructions available to make juries aware of the problems that can plague cross-racial identifications. California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Utah already employ such instructions in some cases.
“The majority race is not as good at identifying minorities as it is its own race. This is hard-wired in some way that we don’t completely understand. But the phenomenon should be presented to the jury,” said Barry Scheck, co-founder of The Innocence Project. Prosecutors disagree. “This is not an appropriate area for judges to go into,” said Josh Marquis, district attorney in Astoria, Ore., and a leader of the National District Attorneys Association. “Yes, eyewitness ID across races has its issues. But is there a rampant problem to the degree that we need to get judges to start telling juries this is the law? No.” The AP says some criminal justice experts believe mistakes are so pervasive that only wholesale reforms in identification procedures will fix the problem.