We recently wrote about how unreliable eyewitness testimony can be in criminal cases. A recent study concluded that a simple variation in the way witnesses are shown suspect photos can greatly increase their chances of falsely identifying an innocent person. This has led to countless wrongful convictions in cases of sexual assault, rape and robbery.
Eyewitness technology such as surveillance cameras isn't always more accurate. Earlier this month, a Wisconsin man who was previously convicted for armed robbery was granted a new trial because a review of surveillance footage shows that the suspect was much shorter than he is.
In 1994, the Milwaukee man was convicted for 2 armed robberies of food stores on the north side of the city. Both robberies were committed by several suspects, but for some reason he was tried separately.
In both robberies, surveillance cameras caught images of the robbers, and this apparently played a role in his conviction. However, the images were grainy, and a witness who identified him at trial initially failed to pick him out of a lineup. The witness's original description also did not match his features.
Nonetheless, he was convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison. However, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals recently decided to grant him a new trial based on new video enhancement technology that could cast doubt on his conviction.
The man is 6-foot-3-inches tall, but a new analysis of the video shows a suspect who is less than 6 feet tall. This significant height difference, combined with the other inconsistencies in his conviction, could be enough to exonerate him at a new trial. Check back later this week as we discuss more about the case and the importance of appeals and post-conviction motions.
Source: Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, "New technology leads to new trial in robbery case," Bruce Vielmetti, Oct. 4, 2011