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Eyewitness Identification

It is no longer disputed that eyewitness misidentification is a real and significant problem and a major cause of wrongful convictions. This country's understanding of this issue has evolved and expanded significantly since Mr. Velazquez was convicted in 1999.

For instance, New Jersey's Supreme Court recently found that

Study after study [has] revealed a troubling lack of reliability in eyewitness identifications. From social science research to the review of actual police lineups, from laboratory experiments to DNA exonerations, the record proves that the possibility of mistaken identifications is real. Indeed, it is now widely known that eyewitness misidentification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions across the country.

New Jersey v. Henderson, No.A-8-08, at 4-5 (NJ Aug. 24, 2011)

In Henderson, the New Jersey Supreme Court unanimously recommended tighter restrictions on eyewitness testimony in an opinion that called into question the reliability of eyewitness testimony.

Studies published since Mr. Velazquez was wrongfully convicted provide important data regarding the frequency with which misidentifications occur in various settings. Depending on the particular study, the percentage of eyewitness misidentifications range anywhere from 33-50 percent.

Furthermore, a compilation of DNA exculpation cases created by the Innocence Project shows that, as of July 29, 2011, 273 wrongfully convicted persons had been exculpated by DNA evidence as 75% of those convictions involved erroneous eyewitness identification. The fact that Mr. Velazquez was identified by more than one person does not alter the reality of the high risk of misidentifications. Thirty-six percent of those exonerated in the cases cited by the Innocence Project's report were misidentified by more than one eyewitness.

In this case, the evidence shows that the eyewitness identifications lead to Mr. Velazquez's conviction were highly unreliable and a result of improper police procedures used both in the photo and lineup processes. Furthermore, the reliability of the eyewitness identifications, in this case, has been seriously undercut by the eyewitnesses' subsequent recantations and changes from their original trial testimony.

There have been reports, studies, and court decisions that examined and questioned the reliability of eyewitness. The New York State Bar Association's Task Force on Wrongful Convictions concluded, after an exhaustive study, that erroneous identifications "were responsible for more wrongful convictions than any other single factor."

Final Report of the New York State Bar Association's Task Force on Wrongful Convictions

Perhaps more disturbing than the eyewitness misidentifications that resulted in Mr. Velazquez's wrongful conviction was the intentional failure by the police to conduct a meaningful and thorough investigation of leads that came from multiple sources that indicated that an individual by the name of "Mustafa" was responsible for Albert Ward's murder. Additional information about "Mustafa" that has been obtained strongly suggests that he was the killer and not Mr. Velazquez.