What's the Matter with Illinois: How an Opportunity Was Squandered to Conduct an Important Study on Eyewitness Identification Procedures

The Champion

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. 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.

In this article, Timothy O’Toole discusses how the Illinois Legislature gave the criminal justice community a marvelous opportunity to conduct a serious, large-scale study of the efficacy of eyewitness reform procedures, one that could have been vital to correcting flaws in the current system. Instead of accepting the opportunity, the Mecklenburg Report ignored the guidance of the legislature and conducted a valueless exercise at substantial taxpayer expense.

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