Flawed eyewitness identification evidence contributed to Ivan Henry’s wrongful conviction. Six of the witnesses who identified Henry did so when he was in a headlock, held by three uniformed police officers.
Photo: Toronto Star
Author: Michael Macrae, University of Toronto Law Student and 2015 AIDWYC Summer Fellow
Disclaimer: The author has neither used nor studied statistical mathematics in many years, and accordingly does not have in-depth understanding of the statistical segments of the articles cited. Those with deeper knowledge of statistics are encouraged to make their own investigations into the articles cited in this essay.
When reading the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in Proulx v Quebec (Attorney General), I was struck by how biased the criminal investigation against Benoît Proulx, which formed the basis for his civil lawsuit, seemed to be. Proulx was charged with murder after being identified by a witness; so far, reasonable enough. However, the witness’s credibility was undermined by many factors, including that he was never asked to compare Proulx’s features to those of others; rather, the witness was shown only a series of photographs of Proulx and asked whether they portrayed the person whom he had seen. Similarly, Ivan Henry was wrongfully convicted of terrible crimes and punished accordingly after he was identified in a police line-up that involved no others similar to him in appearance. These situations, so strongly associated with miscarriages of justice, prompted me to research common flaws that afflict police line-ups before providing suggestions for how they might be fixed.
Before any further discussion, defining terms is helpful:
A false positive is when a party is incorrectly identified as the suspect.
A false negative is when a suspect is not identified by a witness.
Street identification is a police [...]