Eye Witness

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A lineup or photo array involves placing a suspect or a photo of a suspect among people who are not suspected of committing the crime fillers and asking the eyewitness to identify the perpetrator. Misidentification by eyewitnesses has played a role in a high number of wrongful convictions and has led criminal justice experts to look more closely at the effectiveness of identifying suspects from live and photographic lineups. Most U. However, some research has indicated that a sequential lineup, in which photographs are presented to the witness one at a time, produces fewer false identifications as well as fewer true identifications [ 1 , [2].

So far, research that compares simultaneous and sequential lineups and the use of "blind" administrators has not been conclusive. In a blind lineup, the person who is running the lineup does not know which person the police believe is the likely suspect. Other research has specifically pointed to this sort of confidence-inflation as a factor in wrongful convictions. Brandon Garrett of the University of Virginia School of Law, for example, recently analyzed cases of eyewitness misidentification that later resulted in DNA exonerations.

He found that more than half of the initial trials involved a witness who, like Jennifer Thompson, was unsure at the time of the suspect ID, but who then expressed confidence in his or her choice when testifying in a courtroom.

Of course there is always the chance that an initially unsure witness has pointed to the right person, as happened with Carol DaRonch, whose ID of Ted Bundy in helped convict the serial killer. He had tried and failed to kidnap her the previous year. Paying particular attention to the lack of initial confidence in such a case could lead to a faulty acquittal.


Eyewitness testimony may only be credible under these circumstances

Thirteen states now require local police departments to use double-blind procedures, as well as to record the confidence levels of eyewitnesses when they select a suspect. Another 12 states have recommended these practices. In , the National Academy of Sciences gave an academic imprimatur to such reforms, recommending , among other changes, that criminal investigators adopt a double-blind system, make a record of confidence levels, and also videotape the suspect selection proceedings.

If these reforms had been put in place long ago, they might have spared Ronald Cotton more than a decade in prison for a rape he did not commit.

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Source misattribution occurs when a witness is incorrect about where or when they have the memory from. If a witness cannot correctly identify the source of their retrieved memory, the witness is seen as not reliable. While some witnesses see the entirety of a crime happen in front of them, some witness only part of a crime.

These witnesses are more likely to experience confirmation bias. Witness expectations are to blame for the distortion that may come from confirmation bias. For example, Lindholm and Christianson found that witnesses of a mock crime who did not witness the whole crime, nevertheless testified to what they expected would have happened.

These expectations are normally similar across individuals due to the details of the environment.

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Evaluating the credibility of eyewitness testimony falls on all individual jurors when such evidence is offered as testimony in a trial in the United States. An overview of this research by Laub and Bornstein shows this to be an inaccurate gauge of accuracy. Research on eyewitness testimony looks at systematic variables or estimator variables. Estimator variables are characteristics of the witness, event, testimony, or testimony evaluators. Systematic variables are variables that are, or have the possibility of, being controlled by the criminal justice system.

Both sets of variables can be manipulated and studied during research, but only system variables can be controlled in actual procedure. Among children, suggestibility can be very high. Suggestibility is the term used when a witness accepts information after the actual event and incorporates it into the memory of the event itself.

Eyewitness Identification | National Institute of Justice

Children's developmental level generally correlated with age causes them to be more easily influenced by leading questions, misinformation, and other post-event details. Compared to older children, preschool-age children are more likely to fall victim to suggestions without the ability to focus solely on the facts of what happened. In addition, a recent meta-analysis found that older adults over age 65 tend to be more susceptible to memory distortion brought about by misleading post-event information, compared to young adults.

Many of the early studies of memory demonstrated how memories can fail to be accurate records of experiences. Because jurors and judges do not have access to the original event, it is important to know whether a testimony is based on actual experience or not.


In a study, Frederic Bartlett demonstrated how serial reproduction of a story distorted accuracy in recalling information. He told participants a complicated Native American story and had them repeat it over a series of intervals. With each repetition, the stories were altered. Even when participants recalled accurate information, they filled in gaps with information that would fit their personal experiences. His work showed long term memory to be adaptable.

People attempt to place past events into existing representations of the world, making the memory more coherent.

How reliable is eyewitness testimony?

Instead of remembering precise details about commonplace occurrences, a schema is developed. A schema is a generalization formed mentally based on experience. Bartlett summarized this issue, explaining. Further research of schemas shows memories that are inconsistent with a schema decay faster than those that match up with a schema. Tuckey and Brewer found pieces of information that were inconsistent with a typical robbery decayed much faster than those that were schema consistent over a week period, unless the information stood out as being extremely unusual.

The use of schemas has been shown to increase the accuracy of recall of schema-consistent information but this comes at the cost of decreased recall of schema-inconsistent information. Elizabeth Loftus is one of the leading psychologists in the field of eyewitness testimony. She provided extensive research on this topic, revolutionizing the field with her bold stance that challenges the credibility of eyewitness testimony in court.

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