During an investigation, law enforcement agents in investigative positions commonly encounter ethical difficulties. Investigators with a large caseload are required to prioritize which cases they would analyze above others. Officers frequently depend on the case’s solvability to focus their efforts, which implies that crimes that are significantly more complex to tackle are never settled. Additionally, another major issue that frequently occurs is the conviction of the wrong person.
The most common reason for false convictions is erroneous eyewitness testimony. Nowadays, more is knowns about the peculiarities of eyewitness recollection. According to research, memories are unreliable and may be manipulated, so an individual may feel they witnessed something that never occurred or saw a person who was not present (Pollock, 2021). According to Pollock (2021), witnesses can construct false recollections just by having authorities provide alternative facts. For example, roughly 30 to 40% of eyewitnesses would modify their recollection of a car color if they received an official statement that revealed a different color (Pollock, 2021). According to data analysis, burglary victims are so psychologically damaged by the weapon that they do not encapsulate the characteristics of the perpetrator (Pollock, 2021). As a result, their recollections can be tainted by erroneous features pulled from previous experiences or expectations. The ethical implications of wrongful convictions due to eyewitness testimonies involve dilemmas like incarcerating innocent individuals while allowing guilty parties to remain free, and a deliberate emphasis on the conviction rate rather than the reliability of prosecutions (Meadows, 2018). Therefore, eyewitness evidence should be utilized carefully due to its unreliability.
When closing the case, officers must focus on justice and ensure that there are no wrongful convictions based upon false identification. It can be done by not using false confessions, misleading eyewitnesses, and utilizing various methods of criminal identification. A show-up, pictures, lineups, mug-book search, and the creation of a police sketch are all procedures that include the culprit and evaluate the victim’s recall of an individual involved in the case. Blood tests, DNA evidence, handwriting samples, and speaking tests are examples of other procedures (Meadows, 2018). These means of detecting the offender are also used to increase the chances of proper identification.
Although there may be no misconduct on the side of police or authorities, in certain circumstances, inappropriate police or prosecutorial behavior encouraged eyewitnesses to identify the incorrect individual. For example, rather than utilizing a lineup, law enforcement officers may continually question witnesses if they were positive the accused was not the criminal or use show-ups, which display only one individual to the witness (Pollock, 2021). Since the victim has already seen a picture having the accused in it, the lineups may be biased (Pollock, 2021). Even when eyewitnesses are reluctant and doubtful about the identification, the study indicates that by the time the case goes to court, they are persuaded they are correct and deliver powerful testimony for the jury and judge.
Hence, law enforcement agents face numerous ethical issues when dealing with various cases, and one of them deals with wrongful convictions based on the utilization of eyewitness accounts. Erroneous eyewitness testimony is not uncommon and frequently happens under various conditions. For example, in one situation, the main eyewitnesses might be influenced by law enforcement agents through improper actions, and in this sense, officers might mislead the victims. In another situation, the identification of the wrong person can be unintentional. Here, it is important to understand that under stressful conditions, victims might have distorted recollections and, therefore, provide inappropriate evidence and accusations. As a result, an officer must ensure fairness and utilize different methods for the identification of suspects.
Meadows, R. J. (2018). Understanding violence and victimization (7th Edition). Pearson Education.
Pollock, J. M. (2021). Ethical dilemmas and decisions in criminal justice. Cengage Learning.