Eyewitness Identification

Hoisted from comments… reader Noni Mausa adds to my post on individuals being wrongly convicted due to erroneous eyewitness identification….


Regarding eyewitness identification, I had the doubtless very rare opportunity to PROVE to myself that it is not dependable.

I woke one night well after midnight hearing clanking and clunking from across the alley, in my neighbour’s garage. I dressed quickly, grabbed my digital camera, and silently nipped outside and around into the alley.

Two young men came running out of the garage wheeling bicycles and carrying a boom-box. When they saw me photographing them they were so surprised that they dropped the stuff and took to their heels, (losing the opportunity of adding quite a nice camera to their loot).

I went home and called the cops, wrote out a detailed description of the young men and what they were wearing, AND THEN downloaded the photos.

Ladies and gentlemen, not only was my description wrong, it was wrong on major, obvious points. At my closest I was about 25 feet away in a brightly lit alley. I misremembered the colour and cut of their jackets (I said grey with a yoke across the back — they were actually dark denim). The hair length, the approximate age, the footwear — my ID would have been a patent fantasy, bound to get some innocent in trouble while at the same time ruling out the real thieves.

I still carry two very clear memories — the thieves I “saw”, and the thieves I photographed. The two images coexist in my mind, reminding me that my eyes are deeply fallible.