Questioning The Witness

Credit Jeanette DeForge / The Republican / masslive.com

Scientists have long claimed that eyewitness testimony can be both highly convincing and incredibly unreliable. According to the Innocence Project, 70% of convictions overturned by DNA evidence came down to faulty eyewitness testimony. Observers say Massachusetts has made progress in making sure eyewitness testimony is accurate, but problems persist.

In this three-part series, New England Public Media's Karen Brown looks at the evolving science of eyewitness testimony and the people with the greatest stake in how it’s used.

Part one: 'I Was There, I Saw Him': Do Eyewitnesses Have Too Much Sway In Massachusetts Courts?

Part two: 'Why'd You Pick Me?' Eyewitness Reforms Offer Limited Help To Those Convicted Decades Ago

Part three: 'I Don't Think You Did This, But I Can't Fix It': How To Improve Eyewitness Evidence

A witness to a 2016 shooting in Springfield, Massachusetts, looks through photos. NEPM has obscured her face.
Screen shot / Police video

Advocates for the wrongly convicted often say they’d much rather prevent mistakes than fix them after years of incarceration. But how to do that is up for debate.

Newly released from prison in April 2020, James Watson is flanked by his lawyers, Madeline Weaver Blanchette (left) and Barb Munro.
Courtesy / Barb Munro

In 2011, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court put together a task force of people from all over the criminal justice community.

They studied how eyewitness evidence is used in the courtroom and offered science-based recommendations going forward.

But it left many people who were convicted before the report still in prison.

Witness Gregory Danas (center), a ballistics expert, answers questions from attorney Myles Jacobson (right) during a hearing for Phillip Ayala in Hampden Superior Court in 2015.
Mark M. Murray / The Republican / masslive.com

Scientists have long claimed that eyewitness testimony can be both highly convincing and incredibly unreliable.