Eyewitness identification  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

In eyewitness identification, in criminal law, evidence is received from a witness "who has actually seen an event and can so testify in court".

Although it has been observed, by the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, Jr., in his dissent to Watkins v. Sowders, that witness testimony is evidence that "juries seem most receptive to, and not inclined to discredit". Justice Brennan also observed that "At least since United States v. Wade, 388 U.S. 218 (1967), the Court has recognized the inherently suspect qualities of eyewitness identification evidence, and described the evidence as "notoriously unreliable". The Innocence Project, a non-profit organization which has worked on using DNA evidence in order to reopen criminal convictions that were made before DNA testing was available as a tool in criminal investigations, states that "Eyewitness misidentification is the single greatest cause of wrongful convictions nationwide, playing a role in more than 75% of convictions overturned through DNA testing." In the United Kingdom, the Criminal Law Review Committee, writing in 1971, stated that cases of mistaken identification "constitute by far the greatest cause of actual or possible wrong convictions".

Historically, eyewitness testimony had what Brennan described as "a powerful impact on juries", who noted in his dissent that "All the evidence points rather strikingly to the conclusion that there is almost nothing more convincing [to a jury] than a live human being who takes the stand, points a finger at the defendant, and says 'That's the one!'" Another commentator observed that the eyewitness identification of a person as a perpetrator was persuasive to jurors even when "far outweighed by evidence of innocence."

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