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Mistaken Identity Defenses

Posted in Criminal Defense on April 12, 2019

One of the most common defenses used to fight criminal charges is mistaken identity. In the heat of the moment during a criminal event, a victim may have trouble remembering specific aspects about an attacker or suspect. Human memory is not as reliable as most people realize. Many people have unfortunately gone to prison because they happened to match the description of a wanted suspect. If you intend to use mistaken identity as a defense against a criminal charge, you should know what to expect and what the mistaken identity defense actually entails.

How to Prove Mistaken Identity

The American due process system places the burden of proof in a criminal case on the accuser. Since the state prosecutes criminal cases, the state prosecutor handling a criminal case must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant committed an alleged crime. In some cases, an accused individual can simply do nothing and allow a prosecutor’s case to fall apart due to lack of evidence, but this is very rare.

Most mistaken identity cases arise from photo arrays and lineup identification during the initial phases of a criminal investigation. For example, the police may ask a crime victim for a description of his or her attacker and then gather suspects that fit the provided description. This may entail showing photographs of known criminals or having suspects appear for lineup identification. During a lineup, the police may ask each lineup participant to read certain phrases or move in certain ways to help a victim positively identify an offender.

Due to the inherent failings of human memory and the effect that trauma can have on an individual, it is not uncommon for a victim to mistakenly identify his or her attacker, potentially placing blame on an innocent person.

Proving Your Innocence

If you have been mistakenly identified as a criminal offender, the first step in solidifying your defense is establishing an alibi. If you have a valid alibi that places you somewhere else at the time of the alleged crime, and witnesses can verify your alibi, this may be all it takes to prove mistaken identity. However, if an accused person does not have a verifiable alibi it can be very difficult to prove mistaken identity.

Thankfully, DNA testing is not only much more accurate today, it is much more accessible, affordable, and quick. If DNA evidence plays any role in a criminal investigation, this may be all it takes to exonerate a wrongfully accused suspect. When DNA testing first became a mainstream tool of the criminal justice system in the 1990s, communities all across the country witnessed a rash of exonerations for individuals who had been wrongfully convicted due to lack of access to reliable DNA testing.

CA Laws Protecting Against Mistaken Identity

California allows those charged with a crime to produce evidence of an alibi or evidence that proves mistaken identity. Many nonprofit and advocacy programs also exist in CA to offer assistance to those who have been wrongfully charged and/or convicted, like the California Innocence Project. Beyond a reliable criminal defense lawyer, these services often provide the best chances of overcoming mistaken identity issues and protecting your rights when you face a wrongful arrest.

Mistaken identity has unfortunately resulted in countless individual serving years behind bars for crimes they did not commit. Thankfully, forensic technologies like DNA testing and more accessible public surveillance footage helps curb the number of mistaken identity cases today. Unfortunately, it is still possible for an individual to face criminal charges for a crime committed by someone else. If you or a loved one face a wrongful accusation of a crime, hiring a criminal defense attorney may be one of the best possible options for clearing your name and protecting your rights.