An eyewitness can provide powerful, compelling testimony in a criminal case. Yet, eyewitnesses are far less reliable than most people realize. According to a study cited by the Association for Psychological Science more than 70% of all people exonerated by the Innocence Project based on DNA evidence were convicted at least partially based on a mistake by an eyewitness. 

This raises an important question: Can you challenge mistaken identity by a witness on appeal? The short answer is ‘yes’—but doing so can be difficult and there are strict procedural standards that you must satisfy. Here, our criminal appellate lawyers highlight the most important things to know about proven witness mistaken identity for a criminal appeal. 

Starting Point: Unreliable Eyewitness Testimony Should be Challenged During the Trial

As a starting point, it is important to emphasize that the testimony of an unreliable eyewitness should be challenged during the initial criminal trial. Generally, a criminal defense lawyer should file a motion to suppress pretrial identification and prevent in-court identification.  Eyewitness testimony is inherently compelling—even if it is not reliable. For that reason, unreliable testimony needs to be kept out of court. 

Potential Ground for Appeal: If your criminal defense lawyer failed to take the proper steps to exclude an unreliable eyewitness from your case, you may have an appeal on the grounds of ineffective assistance of counsel. 

Unreliable Eyewitness Testimony Can Taint Criminal Proceedings

Even if your criminal defense lawyer does everything the right way, a judge may still allow an unreliable eyewitness to testify in court. In these circumstances, it is imperative that your defense lawyer raises the proper objections so that they can preserve your ability to appeal the matter. 

Potential Ground for Appeal: A criminal conviction may be appealed on the grounds the evidence was improperly admitted into court. Allowing an unreliable witness to testify is a procedural error that could warrant a remedy, potentially even a new trial. 

Proving Mistaken Identity Depends on the Specific Circumstances of the Case

To bring a successful criminal appeal, you must prove that the trial court made a substantial legal error that warrants redress. What exactly you need to do to establish that the identification made by an eyewitness was a mistake depends on many different factors. Some issues that must be considered include: 

  • Cross-racial identification;  
  • Improperly suggestive pretrial identification procedures; 
  • Other significant errors by law enforcement; and 
  • Improperly excluded evidence, including wavering the eyewitness. 

Schedule a Confidential Consultation With a Criminal Appeal Attorney Today

At The Appellate Law Firm, our criminal appeal lawyers work tirelessly to help clients reverse errors made by lower courts. If you have any questions about proven witness mistaken identity in a criminal case, we are more than ready to help. Give us a call now or connect with us online for a strictly confidential review of your case. Our firm provides criminal appellate law representation in Michigan, Washington, California, Oregon, Texas, Ohio, Florida, Georgia, and Pennsylvania. 

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