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What's the Matter With Illinois? How an Opportunity Was Squandered to Conduct an Important Study on Eyewitness Identification Procedures
By Timothy P. O'Toole
In April 2002, the Illinois Governor’s Commission on Capital Punishment issued a report that sought to identify why Illinois had experienced so many wrongful convictions in capital cases and to propose changes to rehabilitate the criminal justice system of Illinois. One focus was faulty eyewitness testimony. As the Commission noted, “the fallibility of eyewitness testimony has become increasingly well-documented in both academic literature and courts of law.”1 This conclusion was both uncontroversial and understated: Virtually all studies rank mistaken eyewitness identification as the leading cause of wrongful convictions, by one estimate accounting for 88 percent of the erroneous rape convictions and 50 percent of the wrongful murder convictions.2 The Department of Justice itself analyzed 28 DNA exonerations and concluded that inaccurate eyewitness testimony was “the most compelling evidence” in the majority of those cases.3
Faced with these facts and the many wrongful convictions al
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