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Race Matters When It Comes to Identifying Criminals

Smart victims of crimes know to pay attention to details during the act to help catch the crook later. Problems with this strategy arise from this phenomenon — people have problems with cross-racial identification. Since 1991, 218 people have been found innocent through DNA testing — 75 percent of those wrongful convictions came from mistaken eyewitnesses, and half of those involved a person of one race misidentifying a person of another.

One such story happened to a victim of rape. Though she'd had a good close look at the perpetrator, when it came to the lineup, she fingered the wrong African-American. To see her story,


She says, "Between the composite sketch and the photo identification, I had messed it up. By the time I got to the physical lineup, Ron Cotton had become my attacker and that was that." Now the victim and the innocent man she identified leading to his conviction are writing a book together.

The co-founder of the Innocence Project, a legal group that advocates for genetic testing leading to the release of innocent inmates says, "The majority race is not as good at identifying minorities as it is its own race. This is hard-wired in some way that we don't completely understand." The details of five such cases, where African-American suspects were convicted after being misidentified by white victims where DNA ultimately cleared them illustrates this phenomenon.

Where does it come from? Is it possible for one race to have difficulty identifying someone from another? Why?


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