Wrongly Convicted

Via Kevin Drum, a scary story about eyewitness testimony and ethnicity:

EYEWITNESS TESTIMONY….Jeff Miller is the 200th person to be exonerated by DNA testing after being wrongfully convicted. According to the Innocence Project, he’s not unusual:

Of those exonerated after a rape conviction, 85 percent were black men accused of assaulting a white woman. In contrast, black men are accused in 33.6 percent of rapes or sexual assaults of white women, according to a 2005 Bureau of Justice Statistics study of victims.

This is all part of the dirty little secret of the criminal justice system: eyewitness testimony is close to useless. And it’s especially useless when identifying a person of a different race, when the light is bad, and when you’re under stress — all of which usually come into play in violent crimes. What’s more, it doesn’t matter if the person making the identification is really, really, sure: the confidence of the ID is pretty much uncorrelated with whether the ID is actually correct. Not quite like Law & Order.

I understand there have been some instances in which people on death row were found to be wrongfully convicted. There are two huge problems with convicting the innocent. The first is that it creates a new victim, the person who gets convicted. The second is that it potentially creates many new victims, namely those that get victimized by the real perpetrator who is free to go about his business.