Concerns with Cross-Racial Witness Identification in Criminal Jury Trials

March 9, 2023

Cross-racial identification, also known as other-race effect, refers to the phenomenon where individuals have difficulty accurately identifying individuals from a different race than their own. This phenomenon has been widely studied and has important implications for criminal jury trials, where eyewitness identification is often a key piece of evidence.

Research on cross-racial identification has shown that individuals are less accurate at identifying individuals from a different race than their own. One study published in the journal Psychological Science found that individuals were more likely to make mistakes when trying to identify individuals from a different race than their own, compared to individuals of their own race. Another study, published in the journal Law and Human Behavior, found that individuals were less likely to accurately identify suspects of a different race than their own, particularly when the suspect and the witness were of different races.

These findings have important implications for criminal jury trials, where eyewitness identification is often a key piece of evidence. Eyewitnesses who are not able to accurately identify suspects of a different race than their own may lead to wrongful convictions. Furthermore, when a suspect is of a different race than the victim or the eyewitness, it may also lead to discrimination and bias during the trial.

In order to address the concerns of cross-racial identification in criminal jury trials, several measures have been proposed. One measure is the use of multiple eyewitnesses to identify suspects, which can help to increase the accuracy of identification. Another measure is the use of blind or double-blind lineups, where the person administering the lineup does not know the identity of the suspect. This can help to reduce the potential for bias during the identification process.

In addition, some jurisdictions have implemented the use of sequential lineups, where witnesses view suspects one at a time rather than all at once. This method has been shown to reduce the rate of wrongful convictions caused by mistaken identifications.

Another measure is to provide more detailed instructions to eyewitnesses during the identification process, such as to inform them that the perpetrator may not be present in the lineup and that the perpetrator’s race may not match the eyewitness’s memory of the perpetrator.

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