A Costly Mistake Visit the Innocence Project that discuss…

A Costly Mistake Visit the Innocence Project that discusses eyewitness identification, making sure to watch the embedded video. Based on the information provided by both the victim and the police officer, analyze the problems in identifying the suspect. Explain the reasons that the eyewitness may have falsely identified Mr. Cotton. Evaluate the police lineup procedure. Where were the problems, and what could have been done differently? Please write using APA format. https://www.innocenceproject.org/eyewitness-identification-reform/

Eyewitness identification is a crucial form of evidence used in criminal investigations and trials. However, it is well-documented that eyewitness testimony is not always reliable and can lead to wrongful convictions. The case of Mr. Cotton, as discussed in the Innocence Project’s article and video, serves as a prime example of the problems associated with eyewitness identification.

In the case of Mr. Cotton, the eyewitness, Jennifer Thompson, positively identified him as the assailant who raped her. Her identification was considered strong evidence against Mr. Cotton and played a significant role in his conviction. However, DNA evidence later proved Mr. Cotton’s innocence, leading to his eventual exoneration.

One of the primary reasons for the false identification in this case is the issue of cross-racial identification. Research has consistently shown that people are generally less accurate in identifying individuals from a different racial group than their own (Cutler, Penrod, & Dexter, 1989). In this case, Jennifer Thompson, who is white, wrongly identified Mr. Cotton, who is African American. This racial bias in identification can result from the “own-race bias,” where individuals are better at recognizing faces from their own racial group due to familiarity (Malpass & Kravitz, 1969). Therefore, it is crucial to acknowledge the potential impact of cross-racial identification and consider its influence in cases like Mr. Cotton’s.

Another contributing factor to the false identification in this case could be stress and the presence of a weapon during the crime. Studies have shown that the presence of a weapon can impair an eyewitness’s ability to accurately identify a suspect (Deffenbacher et al., 2004). The high-stress situation of a violent crime can also affect an eyewitness’s memory, as stress can impair an individual’s cognitive processes, such as perception and attention (Christianson, 1992). Jennifer Thompson was subjected to a traumatic experience during the rape, which could have impacted her ability to accurately remember and identify the suspect.

The police lineup procedure used in Mr. Cotton’s case also raises concerns about the accuracy of the identification process. The lineup consisted of five individuals, with Mr. Cotton being the only person matching the general description provided by the victim. This type of lineup, known as a “target-present” lineup, can be suggestive and bias the witness towards selecting the only suspect that matches the description (Wells, 1993; Meissner & Brigham, 2001). This suggests that the lineup used in this case was flawed and increased the likelihood of a false identification.

Furthermore, the lineup was conducted by a detective who was already aware of Mr. Cotton as a potential suspect. This knowledge could have influenced the way the lineup was conducted and unintentionally signaled to the witness that Mr. Cotton was the person they should identify (Wells et al., 2006). This confirmation bias, where the investigator’s beliefs influence the witness’s identification, can significantly affect the reliability of the evidence.

In order to improve the reliability of eyewitness identification, several reforms have been suggested. One reform is to use a “double-blind” lineup procedure, where neither the witness nor the lineup administrator knows who the suspect is (Wells et al., 2006). This helps reduce the potential for unintentional bias or suggestive cues from the lineup administrator. Additionally, it would be beneficial to include members of different racial backgrounds in the lineup to account for cross-racial identifications and reduce the own-race bias effect (Cutler et al., 1989). This would ensure that the lineup reflects the diversity of the population and helps prevent misidentifications based on race.

Furthermore, it is important for investigators to document the witness’s level of confidence in their identification immediately after the lineup (Wells et al., 2006). This can be accomplished through a structured post-lineup interview, where the eyewitness is asked to rate their confidence on a scale. Such documentation can help determine the credibility of the identification in court and prevent witnesses from inflating their confidence after the fact.

In conclusion, the case of Mr. Cotton highlights the problems associated with eyewitness identification. Factors such as cross-racial identification, stress, flawed lineup procedures, and confirmation bias can all contribute to false identifications. To minimize wrongful convictions based on eyewitness testimony, it is crucial to implement reforms such as double-blind lineups, diverse lineup compositions, and confidence documentation. These changes can help ensure the accuracy and reliability of eyewitness identification in criminal justice proceedings.


Christianson, S. Å. (1992). Emotional stress and eyewitness memory: A critical review. Psychological Bulletin, 112(2), 284-309.

Cutler, B. L., Penrod, S. D., & Dexter, H. R. (1989). Juror’s perceptions of eyewitness testimony: The impact of cross-race and own-race biases. Journal of Applied Psychology, 74(5), 809-815.

Deffenbacher, K. A., Bornstein, B. H., Penrod, S. D., & McGorty, E. K. (2004). A meta-analytic review of the effects of high stress on eyewitness memory. Law and Human Behavior, 28(6), 687-706.

Malpass, R. S., & Kravitz, J. (1969). Recognition for faces of own and other races. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 13(4), 330-334.

Meissner, C. A., & Brigham, J. C. (2001). Thirty years of investigating the own-race bias in memory for faces: A meta-analytic review. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 7(1), 3-35.

Wells, G. L. (1993). What do we know about eyewitness identification? American Psychologist, 48(5), 553-571.

Wells, G. L., Small, M., Penrod, S., Malpass, R. S., Fulero, S. M., & Brimacombe, C. A. E. (2006). Eyewitness identification procedures: Recommendations for lineups and photospreads. Law and Human Behavior, 30(6), 571-595.