Eyewitness Identification Expert Dr. Geoffrey R. Loftus is a Professor at the University of Washington in Seattle. For 50 years, Dr. Loftus has been studying human perception and memory. On January 24, 2017, Dr. Loftus flew to Chicago to testify as an eyewitness identification expert in a trial at the 26th Street court house in Chicago. Chicago criminal lawyer Michael J. Petro hired Dr. Loftus to testify on behalf of his client Victor.
Victor was charged with being an armed habitual criminal. If convicted, Victor faced a mandatory sentence between 6 to 30 years in prison. Using official police reports and pre-trial hearing testimony transcripts, Dr. Loftus evaluated the reliability of the eyewitness identification of two Chicago Police Officers that identified Victor.
The facts showed that on February 17, 2015 at 6:55 p.m., a citizen on the street told the two Chicago Police officers that he had just been threatened with a gun by two Hispanic males who had driven by him in a gray SUV. The officers searched the vicinity for the suspect SUV. Some distance later, the officers’ car and the suspect SUV were stopped next to one another at a traffic light. At that time, the officers were able to see the SUV’s two occupants.
The two Officer’s attempted to curb the suspect SUV. When the suspect SUV refused to stop, the officers initiated a chase and the two officers saw the SUV’s driver throw a gun from the passenger window of the SUV. The chase was eventually suspended and the suspects escaped. Five days later after developing unreliable information regarding the driver of the of the SUV, the two Chicago Police officers saw Victor sitting in a car on the street. The two Chicago Police officers confidently misidentified and arrested and arrested Victor.
At trial, eyewitness identification expert Loftus started his testimony by stating that a “a confident witness may not be an accurate witness.” This is a problem because “Studies have established that the confidence level that a witness demonstrates regarding their identification is the primary determinant of whether jurors accept identifications as accurate and reliable.”
Dr. Loftus stated confident eyewitness identifications may not be reliable when circumstances show that: 1.) the original event does not lend itself to an eyewitness being able to easily form an accurate memory of an offender’s appearance (e.g., seeing the offender under conditions of poor illumination, and/or limited attention) along with; 2.) some form of suggestive post-event information would bias the witness to reconstruct his or her memory in some fashion (e.g.,identifying a suspect in a biased identification procedure).
As to the Chicago Police Officer’s eyewitness identification of Victor as the driver of the gray SUV, Dr. Loftus stated that this eyewitness identification by the officers was unreliable due to the following factors: 1.) Low lighting makes humans incapable of detecting either the color or the fine detail that is necessary to encode a person’s appearance; 2.) Two occupants present in the SUV divided the officer’s attention; 3.) Potential gun and weapon presence in the SUV divided the officer’s attention; 4.) The officer’s ability to observe the driver of the SUV was short in duration (5 seconds); 5.) Cross racial identifications are less reliable (officers white and SUV occupants Hispanic); 6.) The show-up identification procedure used by the two officers was biased; and finally, 7.) The two officers used suggestive post event information to enhance the confidence of their identification.
In the end at Victor’s trial, the combination of Mr. Petro’s cross-examination of the Chicago Police officers and the helpful expert eyewitness identification testimony of Dr. Loftus led to Victor being found NOT GUILTY of all counts. After two years in the Cook County Jail, Victor was a free man. Victor is happy to be home to his family and his son. Victor thanks eyewitness identification expert Geoffrey r. Loftus and criminal lawyer Michael J. Petro for helping clear his name.