A Sketchy use of Sketches: How Current Generation Facial Composites are Misused and Potentially Harmful




Collier, Bret

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Eyewitness identification in criminal cases is a significant resource for an investigator, and a major consideration in the outcome of countless criminal trials, often serving as the determining factor in whether a person accused of a crime is ultimately convicted. Investigators have several tools at their disposal to draw out and make use of information that those eyewitnesses provide. One such tool is the facial composite, which is intended to represent a two-dimensional likeness of a suspect based on the recollection of a witness. However, there is a significant body of research to suggest that witnesses, for a variety of reasons, have great difficulty recalling faces to the degree that they can accurately relay them to an investigator, even under ideal circumstances. Further, the tools available to produce facial composites based on eyewitness’ recollections are severely lacking efficacy, and very few police departments have personnel adequately trained to make use of them properly. These factors combined can cause decisions to be made based on bad evidence, causing concerning outcomes. Police agencies should strictly limit the use of composite sketches or software for the witness identification of criminal suspects in order to reduce the negative effects of improper use. Only by limiting the use of composite sketches to cases overseen by investigators highly trained in the facial composite tools and processes, and only to instances where the majority of the significant variables in the process can be properly accounted for, can one be hopeful that the end product is sound, and will lead to the furtherance of justice for all parties involved.



Facial Reconstruction, Police Artists, Criminals--Identification, Eyewitness Identification