Troy Davis Debate Highlights Importance of Eyewitness Identification Reform

September 29th, 2011

The debate over the death penalty in the United States was brought to the forefront last week with the execution of Troy Anthony Davis. A secondary issue to emerge from the debate is the need for eyewitness identification reform in police stations and courtrooms across the country. Media reports confirmed that seven of the nine eyewitnesses who testified in Davis’ case recanted their original testimonies, with several citing police pressure as a reason for their original identifications. Inherent in these admissions is the fact that these seven witnesses were either lying during the original trial, or are lying now. This overall truth indicates just how unreliable eyewitness identifications can be.

Another problem in the Davis case was the handling of the witnesses when they were initially questioned. Police brought all nine witnesses to the parking lot where the murder took place to walk the witnesses through the events of that night and have them recreate the crime. This type of policy has the effect of unifying witness stories and gives them the opportunity to coordinate their stories and memories. Best practices show that witness reliability is much higher when witnesses are questioned separately and not allowed to compare stories. With the debate over these issues brought into the spotlight, hopefully the Davis case will have the effect of spurring eyewitness identification reforms.

To read the TIME article, click here.