Picking Cotton (Eyewitness Misidentification)

Lesson Duration

From The Street Law Clinic at Georgetown University Law Center – The Innocence Project Curriculum

Picking Cotton: Lives Taken/Reason for Wrongful Conviction/Eyewitness Misidentification
Go to: (pages 1-17)


Picking Cotton “Students will play the role of the eyewitness, Jennifer Thompson, in the real- life Ronald Cotton case as the case unfolded (i.e., without knowing the outcome). The goal is for the students to go through the same five-step process of police report, sketch, photo lineup, live lineup and trial identification to possibly make the same mistakes that Jennifer unknowingly yet reasonably did in identifying the person she thought attacked her.”

Other activities:
60 Minutes video: “Eyewitness” (12:46) – recreates the whole Cotton case, featuring interviews with the people involved

The False Memory Activity: a quick, interactive example of the difficulties underlying eyewitness identification

• Understand the importance of the role eyewitness identification plays in a justice system, especially
ours—and the upside and downside of it playing such a crucial role
• Articulate the reasons why eyewitness misidentification happens
• Gain a sense of the complicated emotions felt by the misidentifying victim and the intricacies of the Cotton case
• Propose solutions to eliminate eyewitness misidentification


The Street Law Clinic at Georgetown University Law Center: Georgetown law students designed a unit that provides students with a relevant and interesting introduction to the criminal justice system, criminal procedure, and criminal law, using the Innocence Project to explore how good lawyering, good police work, and a just and effective criminal justice system should operate.