Mistaken identity is a defense in criminal law which claims the actual innocence of the criminal defendant, and attempts to undermine the evidence of guilt by asserting that any eyewitness to the crime incorrectly thought that they saw the defendant, when in fact the person seen by the witness was someone else. Primeau Forensics has seen an increasing number of forensic image comparison cases over the last several months. The reason behind this increase? We believe it is due to more and more litigators discovering how useful forensic image comparison can be to an investigation.

There are three major reasons why image comparison investigations can be useful to the trier of fact:

  1. Forensic image comparison investigations minimize bias and apply forensic analysis for the identification of subjects from CCTV video surveillance recording systems. Objective reasoning over subjective reasoning.

  2. An image comparison investigation evaluates the quality of the digital imagery.

  3. An image comparison investigation evaluates the detail within the digital imagery to determine if the images meet the necessary criteria to identify characteristics of a subject for comparison evaluation.

Our experts have witnessed law enforcement and litigators attempt to identify a subject without accessing the digital imagery for sufficient identifiers, such as class and individual characteristics. In many cases, digital imagery extracted from CCTV video surveillance systems lacks the quality needed to identify a subject. However, a lack of identifiers can be used to exclude the identification of subjects. Learn more about the criteria we apply to compare images accurately by following this link.

Identification Bias

Experts at Primeau Forensics minimize the opportunity for bias throughout each investigation, especially forensic image comparison investigations. We are trained in the following criteria to ensure we avoid biasing.

LEVA Level 4: Forensic Video Analysis and The Law

Forensic video analysis involves the interpretation of evidence and can include subjectivity. Bias can adversely affect the reliability of our results. It can negatively influence what we do and how we think. With this in mind, it is our duty to recognize how bias can affect our work and take steps to minimize or eliminate it. Bias awareness is defined as the “inclination or prejudice for or against one person or group, especially in a way considered to be unfair”. Bias can make determinations for the trier of fact that are not based on objective reasoning, but rather subjective reasoning. There are two major types of bias that can influence a determination in court:

  1. Motivational Bias: Includes conscious decision making, desiring or expecting a certain outcome. Desiring or expecting a certain reward. Trying to please people.
  2. Cognitive Bias: Unconscious or unintended. Processing information through your own likes, dislikes, and experiences. A distortion in how we perceive facts. Threatens objectivity. Types of cognitive bias include, but are not limited to, the following; contextual bias, confirmation bias, selection bias, expectation bias, anchoring/focalism, role effects.

Mistaken Identity Case Study

Primeau Forensics recently experienced a case in which incorporated image comparison. A family member of a young African-American male recently sent us a CCTV security video recording that showed two young men breaking into a school. We immediately noticed that poor video quality and inefficient lighting could make identification difficult. However, we extracted several video frames for forensic image enhancement and clarified them as much as scientifically possible. See examples of the evidence below:

Our client was accused of being one of these men and charged with breaking and entering, as well as the destruction of property. Two serious charges that could change his integrity and future very quickly. The identification of our client was based upon shoes worn in the recording. Not only was this identifier insufficient for individual characteristics identification, but the basis of the identification had no scientific foundation.

The school conducted an internal investigation and interviewed its students, showing them the surveillance video and asking if they could identify the two men. Students identified our client as someone who may have owned shoes similar to those seen in the recording. Keep in mind, manufacturers create hundreds, if not thousands, of a specific type of shoe. A shoe is often not unique enough to identify a suspect. Especially because multiple students could have the same shoe.

Forensic image comparison requires the forensic examiner to be able to make identifications based on specific details about the person or item for identification. But as you can see in the images above, poor image quality made an identification or comparative analysis impossible.

How Primeau Forensics Was Able to Help

In order to accurately interpret the content of an image, it is imperative to recognize conditions and limitations. In this case, extracted CCTV surveillance frames that became our images of the ‘unknown’ criminal were not useful for identification purposes, even after forensic image enhancement. There are two ways to look at this case.


  1. First, we began hoping to identify the young men in the video and show that it is not our client.

  2. Secondly, we observed and explained that the quality of the CCTV video recording was too poor to make an identification. It was not scientifically possible to make an identification from this poor recording. Both of these are solutions that can help the litigators.

Our experts explained the preliminary analysis results to the man’s family, stating all of the aforementioned reasons as to why the video was unreliable for identification purposes. While we did not provide formal documents for this case, we recently learned that the court dropped all charges against this man.

Contact an Expert

We often look at image comparison analysis as a must-have outcome in order to identify. However, that is not always the case. Image comparison analysis can’t always be performed, which is a helpful solution for criminal defense litigators. Contact us for more information on forensic image comparison and the analysis our experts perform.