Witness Misidentification: Case of Herman Atkin

Witness Misidentification: Case of Herman Atkin

Many cases have shown how eyewitness testimony can be unreliable in a case since it may lead to witness misidentification. I chose the case of Herman Arkin because it reveals how witness misidentification can lead to wrongful convictions. Herman Atkin was wrongly charged and convicted of rape and robbery in 1986 (Innocence Project, 2016). He served 12 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit after initially being sentenced to 45 years in prison. In April 1986, a female clerk was robbed at gunpoint and raped. Unfortunately, the assailant ejaculated and wiped his semen onto the clerk’s sweater. After being shown the yearbook at the police station, she recognized Herman Arkin claiming that he was the person who assaulted her. In the year 1999, The Innocence Project was permitted to access Arkin’s evidence and to conduct some DNA tests. After Forensic science performed the tests on separate areas of the evidence, Atkins was excluded. After spending 12 years in prison, Atkins was finally released in 2000. Arkin’s case is significant since shows the faults of using eye witness in identification decisions made by the Criminal Justice System and why other critical strategies should be used.

In Atkin’s case, Herman Atkin was identified as a suspect of raped and robbery through eyewitness memory. According to studies from The Innocence Project, the group that has for over a decade been getting the wrongfully convicted released based on DNA evidence, eye witness memory can be unreliable in solving cases. In the case, Atkin was identified through an eye witness who was working at the store next to where the rape incident occurred (Innocence Project, 2018). The witness did not identify Atkin until she saw a poster of him on other charges that were not related to the rape. After being shown the standard lineup of the suspects she identified Atkins as the rapist. In addition to the eyewitness testimony lab, results were consistent with Atkins type.

In Herman Arkin’s case, the witness wrongfully testified against him, leading to 12 years imprisonment for a crime he did not commit (Innocence Project, 2016). Different types of measures could have been used by the investigators to improve the accuracy of eyewitness misidentification. Until recently, it was common for defense attorneys to be denied the use of expert witnesses to explain to juries why eyewitness memory is often unreliable. In many jurisdictions, there have been recent efforts to address this issue, primarily through jury instruction and permitting expert testimony on the subject, but the problem remains pervasive.  The investigators could have considered several measures to improve the accuracy of eye witness identification. One of them is interviewing witnesses immediately after the crime was committed and keeping a record (Jones & Penrod, 2018). Also, the investigators should have noted why the suspect was believed to be guilty of the crime before placing him on the line-up. The investigators should have also documented the level of confidence of the eyewitness at the time when she first identified the suspect. Nonetheless, the investigators should examine the witness’ confidence level from a self-report statement. This self-report should also be documented for further analysis. These measures would have significantly helped the investigators improve eye witness identification accuracy.

According to the video report, the leading cause of witness misidentification that leads to false convictions is the use of eyewitness memory in making identification decisions. Eye witness memory is not nearly as reliable as law enforcement and prosecutors want to claim. Eye witness memory is often not the most substantial evidence in the prosecutor’s arsenal, especially when there is more than one eye witness (Innocence Project, 2016). People view the same event differently, but it can become quite formidable when used in combination with strong circumstantial evidence. As to events, eyewitness testimony is exceptionally reliable, and to the identification of persons involved in those events, it is notoriously unreliable. Eyewitness memory is more or less important, depending on the availability of physical. They also are highly susceptible to suggestions by the interviewer, and once a subliminal suggestion is offered, it becomes a memory for them. A recollection of events in eyewitness memory is still questionable. The mind automatically fills in the blanks, and people seem to think this is a fact when it is not. Take, for instance, the mind’s natural inclination to see faces in almost anything. It happens in anything that even remotely resembles a look. This is how the Herman Atkins case was misjudged.

















Jones, A. M., & Penrod, S. (2018). Improving the effectiveness of the Henderson instruction safeguard against unreliable eyewitness identification. Psychology, Crime & Law, 24(2), 177-193.

Innocence Project. (2016, March 30). Herman Atkins. https://innocenceproject.org/cases/herman-atkins/

Innocence Project. (2018, November 19). Human factors of wrongful conviction: Eyewitness Identification [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dLNyzAE3k9g








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