As I have myself with more time on my hands than I know what to do with, I continue to dive deeper and deeper into the world of TV obsessions. After finishing up a favorite, Are You the One, I browsed through the endless number of new shows able to take over my time. I kept on my MTV kick and cracked into a more recent program, Unlocking the Truth. 31 year old Ryan Ferguson is a recent exonerate of 2 years, after he spent nearly 10 years behind bars for a crime he didn’t even know had been committed. Teaming up with Eva Nagao of The Innocence Project, Ferguson works to reopen cases where convictions could easily have been skewed. He makes it clear that they are not working for the convicted or for their families, however they work to “unlock the truth” so to speak in hopes that justice will be served.
I began looking into these convictions and questioning what could possibly put nearly 10,000 people each year wrongfully behind bars. The number one cause of these illegitimate sentences? Eyewitness Misidentification. Seems simple right? A relatively frustrating fact that these unjust convictions could be fixed with a little bit of truth. However, its not simply the untrustworthy words of eyewitnesses that lead up to the unfortunate demise of many each year. There is a science behind it all, and The Innocence Project has done all the research.
The most talked about factor behind the many contributions to wrongful convictions is the fact that the human mind is not a video camera nor is it a tape recorder. The human mind is unable to record events exactly as we see them and not only are there a lot of natural factors there are a lot of environmental factors brought on by safety personnel.
Naturally occurring factors such as the lighting as the crime took place or the distance the witness was from the crime scene are just a few of the factors we may almost prefer to be the case over system variables that could be purposefully brought upon the witnesses. Besides simply an angry vengeful ex turning in an innocent person to the authorities we have those who are behind the scenes who know no other techniques to get the pin down on at least someone. One of the biggest issues is blind administration. The problem here is the fact that although mostly unintentional, an administrator may make gestures or be suggestive as to who the suspect is, creating a bias within the witness’s mind. Additionally, it is crucial the way that mugshots are presented to witnesses as as random colored picture can stand out against a line of several other black and white photos as seen in the case of Marvin Anderson. Witnesses may feel pressured to point out a perpetrator regardless if they see who they are looking for in the lineup, and those given confirmatory feedback were even more certain in who they were putting their bets on. (The Innocence Project 2016).
According to the Innocence Project, in order to reform the system that needs it more than attention is brought to the table, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) is working to run tests and lead research to create more effective ways to interrogate and accomplish what must be accomplished as ethically as possible. The NAS suggests that administrators should have no information on who the suspect is prior to speaking with the witness. Additionally, those in the line ups should look relatively similar leaving no man or woman as the only suspect of their race, gender, or with their striking characteristics. It is also important that witnesses are aware of the fact that their information is helpful however, the investigation is not over simply because they cannot identify a perpetrator. It was also suggested that not only should documents be signed on account of confidence level but also, investigations should be videotaped. (2016).
The Innocence Project works all around to reform our system. Here is where you can browse their website in its entirety.