Confirming the identity of the accused is a critical component of many criminal trials. However, recent evidence suggests this process is highly error prone and leads to unacceptably high rates of wrongful conviction (Innocence Project, 2015). When photographic identification evidence is ambiguous, facial mapping practitioners may be called upon to make comparisons between images of the culprit and the accused. This practice assumes that the techniques employed are reliable and can be used to assist the court in making identity confirmation decisions. However, previous experimental work in this area has established that many of these techniques are unreliable (Kleinberg, Vanezis & Burton, 2007; Strathie, McNeill & White, 2012). We extend these findings by examining another facial mapping technique that uses gridlines, drawn between face-pairs, as a potential face matching aid (Oxlee, 2007). Results show that a simple side-by-side presentation of face-pairs without gridlines produces most accurate responding. Moreover, the application of the grideline technique increases the likelihood that two different face pairs will judged to be the same. These findings suggest that continuing to admit facial mapping evidence in court is likely to increase, rather than decrease, the incidence of wrongful conviction.
Establishing that the person in the dock is the person who
committed the crime is an essential component of many criminal trials. While an
eyewitness who has identified the defendant as the perpetrator can have a
persuasive effect on a jury, research suggests that the high value attached to
this form of evidence is not always justified (Scheck, Neufeld & Dwyer,
2000). Indeed, figures from the Innocence Project, an organisation that works
to overturn miscarriages of justice using DNA evidence, suggest that faulty
eyewitness identification evidence is the single greatest cause of wrongful
conviction (The Innocence Project, 2015). In January 2015, post-conviction
exonerations stood at 325, with 234 (72%) attributable to eyewitness
misidentification. Research in this area appears to support this estimate.
Huff, Rattner, & Sagarin (1986) suggest that 60% of cases of wrongful
imprisonment involve eyewitness misidentification, whereas Wells, Small,
Pernod, Malpass, Fulero, & Brimacombe (1998) put this figure as high as 90%
(for further examples of eyewitness identification fallibility see: Cutler
& Penrod, 1995; Lindsay & Pozzulo, 1999; Narby, Cutler & Penrod,
1996; Pezdek, 2012; Scheck, Neufeld & Dwyer, 2000; Wells & Bradfield,
1999; Westcott & Brace, 2002; Wright & Davies, 1999). Taken
together this compelling body of evidence suggests that eyewitness
identification is highly unreliable. However, much progress has been made in
recent years towards understanding the variables that contribute to the high
error rates in this area.
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