Could You Be an Eyewitness?: Experiment

Eyewitness Experiment
How good of an eyewitness do you think you'd be? Take a test here!


Results show that 40 percent of the audience chose suspect number 3. Dr. Phil informs his audience that anyone who voted chose an innocent man because the real perpetrator was not in the lineup. "You can call that a trick if you want, but the point is that remains the case, that many jurisdictions across the country do not warn witnesses that the perpetrator might not be in a lineup. What the police have is a suspect, not necessarily the perpetrator. Anyone of us could be an eyewitness to a crime, but would you remember what the criminal looked like? If you are the victim of a crime, surely the perpetrator's face would be etched in your memory … or would it?" Dr. Phil asks.

Dr. Gary Wells, a professor at Iowa State University, has been studying eyewitness accounts for the past 30 years. He says there are a lot of mistakes made with eyewitness identification. "There are over 250 DNA exoneration cases, where juries convicted people of crimes they did not do, and three out of every four of those are cases of mistaken eyewitness identification," he says.

"Isn't it true that less than five percent of the crimes have DNA evidence?" Dr. Phil asks.

"That's right. Those are the lucky cases, the DNA exoneration cases, because for every case for which there is some DNA that might trump an eyewitness, there are 20 cases in which there is no DNA or no proof that would trump it," he says.

[AD]"But if there have been 245 DNA exonerations out of five percent of the cases, and you extrapolate that to the other 95 percent of the cases, there are a lot of innocent people in jail right now," Dr. Phil surmises.

Dr. Wells agrees. "That's a lot of innocent people, and we don't know how to get them out," he says.

Dr. Phil explains that every DNA exoneration case involving mistaken identification is like the audience experiment " the actual perpetrator was not in the lineup that the witness viewed. That's exactly what happened to his first guest, Loretta.