This is a long form article by Amber Dance published in Science News. This is a summary of her article.


The case of Charles Don Flores, who has been facing death row in Texas for 25 years, serves as a poignant example of how flawed forensic practices can lead to wrongful convictions. Flores was convicted in 1999 for a murder he insists he did not commit, and recent insights from forensic psychology may support his claims of innocence.

The Crime and Initial Eyewitness Accounts

The murder Flores was convicted of occurred during a botched attempt to locate drug money. An eyewitness, a woman observing from her window while preparing her children for school, reported seeing two white males with long hair exit a Volkswagen Beetle and enter the house where the murder took place. The police, acting quickly, apprehended the car owner, a long-haired white man, and also focused on Flores, who was known to have connections to drug dealing.

Eyewitness Misidentification and Its Consequences

 Flores, a Hispanic man with very short hair, did not match the initial witness description. Despite this, the police showed the eyewitness a lineup including Flores’ photograph. Gretchen Sween, Flores’ lawyer, highlighted how conspicuous Flores’ photo appeared in the lineup. Initially, the eyewitness did not identify Flores. It was only after seeing his image in the news and a significant passage of time that she came forward to say she recognized him as one of the men entering the house. Three months later, her testimony became crucial in identifying Flores as the murderer.

 The Role of Forensic Psychology

John Wixted, a psychologist at the University of California, San Diego, has pointed out flaws in how eyewitness memories are handled. His research indicates that memories can be unreliable, especially under stressful conditions and with the passage of time. This case underscores the need for the forensic community to reassess the reliability of eyewitness testimony, especially when it is the cornerstone of a conviction.

Forensic Science and Wrongful Convictions

 The Flores case exemplifies a broader issue within forensic science—how misidentifications and outdated forensic practices contribute to wrongful convictions. Flores’ conviction, based heavily on eyewitness testimony that evolved over time, highlights the urgent need for forensic scientists to adopt more rigorous standards and practices.

 Improving Forensic Practices

Several steps can be taken to improve forensic practices and reduce the likelihood of wrongful convictions:


  1. Enhanced Eyewitness Protocols: Implementing better protocols for handling eyewitness testimonies can significantly reduce errors. This includes ensuring lineups are conducted double-blind and that witnesses are not exposed to media coverage that could influence their memory.
  2. Forensic Training and Education: Continuous education for forensic scientists and law enforcement on the latest research and methodologies can help prevent the reliance on flawed techniques.
  3. Use of Advanced Technologies: Incorporating advanced forensic technologies, such as DNA analysis and digital evidence processing, can provide more reliable evidence compared to traditional methods.
  4. Cross-Disciplinary Collaboration: Encouraging collaboration between forensic scientists, psychologists, and legal experts can foster a more holistic approach to forensic investigations and improve the accuracy of evidence interpretation.
  5. Review of Past Convictions: Establishing mechanisms for reviewing past convictions, especially those based heavily on eyewitness testimony, can help identify and correct wrongful convictions.


The case of Charles Don Flores is a stark reminder of the potential consequences of flawed forensic practices. As forensic scientists, it is our responsibility to advocate for and implement improvements in forensic methodologies to ensure that justice is served accurately and fairly. By addressing the issues highlighted in this case, we can work towards a forensic science community that minimizes errors and upholds the integrity of the criminal justice system.

Link to article