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Wrongfully Convicted via Eyewitness Misidentification

Clarkston Legal Dec. 19, 2014

According to the Innocence Project, misidentification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions. This statistic is important to criminal defense lawyers of my half-century vintage. This is because our careers in law spanned the decades in which DNA and other critical forensic technological advances were developed, implemented, and now constitute standard procedure.

The Innocence Project website profiles the more than 300 exonerated prisoners and contains some useful information on this important topic.

Here in Michigan, we have a post-conviction statute that provides a mechanism to have a convict’s DNA tested. This law, in part, was passed in reaction to the 1000s of lost DNA samples that were in law enforcement custody in Detroit. Also, the backlog at labs played a role in getting this law passed.

Recently, the WMU-Cooley Innocence Project claimed a victory last summer in the July bond release of Doyna Davis; the Wayne County Prosecutor thereafter dismissed all charges against Mr. Davis. In this case, Davis’ court-appointed lawyer, with the assistance of the Innocence Project, was granted access to DNA testing which excluded Davis as the perpetrator of the sex crime for which he had been incarcerated since 2006. Davis was misidentified at his bench trial by the victim; Davis represented himself and asserted an alibi defense.

Among the Michigan law schools, both the University of Michigan and WMU-Cooley operate highly successful innocence projects. It is far better to let hundreds of gulity men go free than to incarcerate a single innocent man.