Witnesses less accurate when making cross-race identifications

On Behalf of | Dec 22, 2023 | Criminal Defense |

Understanding the complex nature of eyewitness identifications is important, especially when it comes to cross-race scenarios. Individuals tend to be less accurate when identifying faces of a race other than their own.

Known as the cross-race effect, this phenomenon has significant implications for criminal investigations. Exploring the factors contributing to this trend sheds light on the challenges associated with cross-race identifications.

Factors influencing cross-race identifications

Several factors contribute to the cross-race effect. A key element is the level of exposure individuals have to faces of different races. People tend to be more familiar with faces from their own racial or ethnic groups. This makes it easier for them to recognize and remember those faces. Limited exposure to faces of other races can make it harder to identify individuals from those groups.

Implications for criminal investigations

In criminal investigations, the cross-race effect poses challenges to the accuracy of eyewitness identifications. Misidentifications can lead to wrongful accusations. They can also lead to convictions, impacting the lives of innocent individuals. Law enforcement agencies must be aware of this phenomenon. They also must take steps to mitigate its impact. Effective steps might include implementing fair lineup procedures and providing proper training for investigators.

The New Jersey State Bar Foundation notes that there have been 364 convictions overturned by DNA evidence since 1992. Of those, 70% involved a mistaken eyewitness identification. Almost half of those involved cross-race misidentifications. Adopting best practices in lineup procedures, such as using double-blind techniques, can lead to more reliable eyewitness identifications in cross-race situations.


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