25% of police photo-lineups lead to false identification of suspects – report
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25% of police photo-lineups lead to false identification of suspects – report

Witnesses misidentifying perpetrators of crimes is No. 1 cause of wrongful convictions in Israel, Justice Ministry committee says

Illustrative image of a criminal in handcuffs. (YakobchukOlena/iStock, by Getty Images)
Illustrative image of a criminal in handcuffs. (YakobchukOlena/iStock, by Getty Images)

Almost one in four police photo-lineups of suspects leads to false identification of suspects, and that is the lead cause of wrongful convictions in Israel, according to a report by a committee formed last year by the Justice Ministry to tackle the issue.

The so-called public committee for the prevention of false convictions was established in June 2018 by then-justice minister Ayelet Shaked to tackle wrongful convictions, and its preliminary findings were published Sunday by Hebrew-language media.

The report, presented to Shaked’s successor Amir Ohana, detailed problems in the way photo-lineups are conducted and offered recommendations on how to improve their reliability.

Israeli law and past rulings by the Supreme Court confer great significance on eyewitness identification of a suspect, and a defendant can be convicted on that evidence alone.

According to a Justice Ministry report from June 2019, only four criminal cases have been reopened since 2001 due to a request for retrial by the person convicted. However, the report said, “Most of the research in the field indicates that false identification by a witness is the most prevalent reason for false convictions that were exposed.”

Then-justice minister Ayelet Shaked (R) and Likud MK Amir Ohana (2R) attend a Knesset committee meeting on July 26, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The committee found that of all police lineups in the years 2016-2018, 24.5 percent of witnesses pointed to a person who wasn’t the suspect, data that is consistent with scientific studies.

The committee called for such identification to stop being treated as central evidence in cases, especially when the witness and the suspect don’t know each other.

It also said live lineups should be conducted instead of identification via photos whenever possible. Only eight police lineups out of thousands arranged in 2016-2018 were live, since they are harder to put together.

The report said police shouldn’t heavily rely on an identification by a witness obtained by skimming through a collection of suspects’ photos. It should give weight to cases in which the witness knows the suspect or is of the same ethnic background, and in which they had a better view of the offense.

It also said no second police lineup should ever be held, the lineup should not be filmed, and said the police officer conducting it should be aware of who the suspect is.

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