Three decades ago, a victim’s imperfect memory sent Larry Youngblood to prison. The Arizona Republic says DNA evidence would later clear the Tucson man of involvement with a 1983 child abduction and rape, but not before he would languish for nine years behind bars. Advocates point to the case and a growing number of others to discredit the sanctity of one of the legal system’s most cherished prosecutorial tools: eyewitness testimony.
Last week, the National Academy of Sciences issued a report evaluating the scientific research on memory and eyewitnesses, underlining key variables that can lead to flawed identifications. The report recommends various best-practice procedures, including blind testing, (when the officer performing the lineup is unaware of the suspect), videotaping the procedure, developing standardized witness instructions and asking the witness to rate his or her level of confidence at the time of the lineup. The Innocence Project has pushed for states to uniformly adopt these techniques, to mixed results. The Republic reviews how Youngblood’s case supports the need for reform.