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Eyewitness Misidentification as the Most Common Element of Wrongful Convictions: Case Study

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Table of contents

  1. The Case
  2. The Evidence
  3. The Reliability of Evidence
  4. Exoneration
  5. Should Eyewitness Testimony Be Admissible in Court?

According to studies dating back to the 1930’s, eyewitness misidentification is the most common element in wrongful convictions. In this paper I will talk about a case where misidentification was truly show in honest spotlight. The defendant, Kirk Bloodsworth. a 59-year-old Caucasian man, born and raised in Rosedale, Maryland. An innocent man, only 24 years old at the time of conviction. On the early hours of August 9th, 1985, sound asleep at his cousin’s house in Cambridge, Maryland. Kirk Bloodsworth heard loud pounding on the door. Once he opened the door, flashlights were glaring and pistols were drawn. This doesn’t sound like such a pleasant surprise at this time of day, does it? He was told to exit the house, in such a rude demeanor, the reason being that a women claimed to have seen Mr. Bloodsworth on TV, ‘believing’ that it resembled her old neighbor and the murderer. It was an anonymous call which caused him to be sentenced to death. But the real question is, is this eyewitness testimony actually reliable and should be used in court?

The Case

On July 25th, 1984, two young boys, ages 8 and 10 were sitting by the pond behind an apartment complex. 9-year-old Dawn Hamilton, had wandered off into the woods with a man, and that was the last time she was seen by anyone. The 2 boys had described the man as skinny, 6 foot-five, with a bushy mustache and blonde hair. “Hours later, Dawn’s body was found lying face down in the woods by a Baltimore police detective” (Unknown, 2019). This was the day poor Dawn Hamilton was brutally raped and murdered. A sketch was composed the following days with information coming from the two boys, an 8-year-old and a 10-year-old, the last two people who had seen poor Dawn and the horrific monster who killed her, causing Kirk Bloodsworth to have been convicted for first-degree murder, sexual assault and rape and sentenced to death in Maryland Penitentiary for a crime which he never even committed.

The Evidence

When the sketch was composed, the two boys would often tell the police certain things about the suspect. For example, they stated that the suspect had “more of a Fu Manchu style mustache”. Simple gestures such as these, can clearly alter the appearance of a person, which clearly leads to misidentification of the suspect. When the kids were shown photos that included Mr. Bloodsworth’s image, one of the boys said the offender wasn't even pictured, while the other identified Bloodsworth, but claimed that the hair color was wrong. “The 2 young boys didn’t originally identify Bloodsworth in the lineup, but weeks later, after he was charged, their parents called to say their kids had picked him out- which entitled them to some of the reward” (abolish.org, 2017). This clearly proves something, these kids were being brainwashed over the course of a few weeks and by their own parents, who probably just wanted to get some type of reward out of it all.

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The Reliability of Evidence

Piles of studies have shown that eyewitness testimony is right only about 1/2 of the time, our memories often being contaminated by the media, certain other images, associations and even biases of police. Over the course of the weeks leading up to Bloodsworth’s charged and conviction, the witnesses, meaning those 2 boys, and other began to identify him as the murderer. ‘New’ information was often brought up, and people were ‘blindly’ identifying him. Now let’s get to some real facts. The murderer was claimed to be skinny, 6 foot 5, blonde hair and a bushy mustache. My client, is 6 feet tall, well over 200 pounds, a redhead with mutton-chop sideburns and has been wearing glasses since he was 5. The two images of the men don’t even add up. So where are these witnesses comparing the two men for. “In the case of Kirk Bloodsworth, the sketch carries some similarities to his features. The second witness comes forward and says that they saw this man around the area where the crime occurred, along with the first eyewitness they made up a new sketch, which now resembles Kirk even more because the second eyewitness is now describing Kirk. Now the third, fourth, and fifth eyewitness are convinced the person they saw was Kirk, and they testify in court against him. At this point Kirk Bloodsworth, an innocent bystander, is accused of a crime that he did not commit” (Goldstein, E., 2015). This had actually happened with a witness in this case, he had claimed that he saw Bloodsworth but when asked where, the witness couldn’t state and his answer was that he saw him on TV. It’s very difficult to be able to use eyewitness testimonies in a case where evidence is sparse.

Exoneration

“If it could happen to me, it could happen to anybody” (Bloodsworth, 2004). Mr. Bloodsworth began actively fighting and speaking for others who have truly been wrongfully convicted. He was able to publish a book about his horrible wrongful conviction experience. Mr.Bloodsworth was able to be exonerated by DNA, which was only experimented with and test years after he spent already in jail which was 8 years. In 1992, he had learned about DNA testing and how it could help his case. “The victim’s shorts and underwear, a stick found at the scene, and an autopsy slide were compared against the DNA from the victim and Bloodsworth. The DNA lab determined that the panties excluded Bloodsworth and replicate testing performed by the FBI yielded the same results” (innocenceproject.org). This proved that Bloodsworth was indeed innocent.

Should Eyewitness Testimony Be Admissible in Court?

Eyewitness testimony should not be admissible in court. Especially in this case. The witnesses were at a very young age, however a lot of things that they had stated about the actual suspect and his appearance was ignored by the police. Over time, after seeing this incorrect police sketch, more and more people began to identify the murderer as Kirk Bloodsworth, an innocent man who wasn't even in the area at the time of the crime. People began claiming they’ve seen him do it and that they just know it’s him without giving proper explanations and reasoning as to why they believe it’s actually him, such as the instance with the witness who claimed that he saw Kirk however, only on TV, and no real reasoning and proof. Eyewitness testimonies are inaccurate and people can see and hear what they want and their thoughts and images can be altered over time due to new images and information being presented, time and police influence. “In conclusion, our memory can deceive us…an eyewitness gives a false testimony based on errors in memory” (Goldstein, E., 2015). “Also, there are many ways that the criminal justice system can, purposefully or not, contaminate an eyewitness’s perspective during the suspect ID process and inflate their confidence on the spot. Traditionally, the lineup administrator knows who is the suspect and who are the non-suspect ‘fillers’. This knowledge can contribute to miscarriages of justice—for example, if the administrators ask leading questions that sway the witness’s choice, such as, ‘Do you think it’s that guy?’. These administrators can also make statements that inflate the witness’s confidence level, such as, ‘We thought that was the one’, or ‘Are you sure…?’. Even unconscious cues such as body language may taint the selection process” (Ryan B., 2015). Eyewitness testimonies are often unreliable; eyewitness memories can end up being altered over time, which results in such great issues such as misidentification which puts innocent people in prison. We can’t always rely on people’s memories that can be so easily altered, especially over the course of weeks or even years, during the process. We must put an end to false eyewitness identification and stop using eyewitness testimony in court. We must stop imprisoning innocent people like Kirk Bloodsworth for crimes they haven’t even committed.

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Eyewitness Misidentification as the Most Common Element of Wrongful Convictions: Case Study. (2023, January 31). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 2, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/eyewitness-misidentification-as-the-most-common-element-of-wrongful-convictions-case-study/
“Eyewitness Misidentification as the Most Common Element of Wrongful Convictions: Case Study.” Edubirdie, 31 Jan. 2023, edubirdie.com/examples/eyewitness-misidentification-as-the-most-common-element-of-wrongful-convictions-case-study/
Eyewitness Misidentification as the Most Common Element of Wrongful Convictions: Case Study. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/eyewitness-misidentification-as-the-most-common-element-of-wrongful-convictions-case-study/> [Accessed 2 Mar. 2024].
Eyewitness Misidentification as the Most Common Element of Wrongful Convictions: Case Study [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2023 Jan 31 [cited 2024 Mar 2]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/eyewitness-misidentification-as-the-most-common-element-of-wrongful-convictions-case-study/
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