The fallibility of Eyewitness Identification and Testimony INTRODUCTION: Eyewitness identification and testimonies are relied on heavily by the criminal justice system to help with investigation and prosecution of crimes and criminals. Due to the increase in the use of eyewitness identification psychologist began studying the results more efficiently to gain a clearer understanding of the risks it holds.. A scientific literature on this specific topic was created and highlighted the issues that have been discovered with eyewitness identifications and testimonies. Mistaken eyewitness identification was the largest single factor contributing to the conviction of innocent people. “(CITE EYEWITNESS TESTIMONY) These factors that can relate to accuracy of eyewitness identification include characteristics of the witness, characteristics of the witnessed event, characteristics of testimony, lineup content, lineup instructions, and methods of testing.
EYEWITNESS TESTIMONIES & IDENTIFICATION “Eyewitness testimony is a legal term. It refers to an account given by people of an event they have witnessed. (CITE SIMPLE PYCH) Eyewitnesses can usually be required to give a description of the incident they witnessed at a trial; like giving a description of a robbery or road accident they had seen. Eyewitness testimonies can place a suspect at the crime scene at the time of the offense and can be categorized as a direct evidence of guilt. Also the information provided to the police by an eyewitness can greatly increases the likelihood that a crime will be solved and that the culprit will be convicted.
Eyewitness identification is the most potent tool in this system and is what convinces the juries of the innocence and guilt of the defendant. However, identifications can be incorrect. “This inaccuracy is due to a number of factors including both perceptual factors, such as sensory deficiencies but also social and cognitive factors. ” (CITE TEXT) These factors can influence the accuracy of the identification. The smallest issue could have the largest impact on a testimony. For example at the time of the offense the witness could have been tired or had poor eyesight or not in their right minds due to substance abuse.
It is also possible for eyewitnesses to fall victims of suggestive questioning or perceived pressure to make an identification, which could very well result in an inaccurate identification of the suspect.. “Mistaken eyewitness testimonies are typically the primary evidence for conviction of innocent individuals. Frequently, these convictions are later overturned on physical evidence, such as DNA samples. In fact, some researchers have concluded that mistaken eyewitnesses account for more convictions of innocent persons than all other causes combined. CITE TEXT)More than one hundred people who were convicted prior to the advent of forensic DNA have now been exonerated by DNA tests, and more than 75% of these people were victims of mistaken eyewitness identification” (EYEWITNESS TESTIMONY) MEMORY There are a number of procedures to help improve eyewitness testimonies.
The textbook talks a lot about memory and how it plays a large role in the identification process. When evidence based on memory becomes something to rely on, there are two forms that should be taking into consideration, memory and memory testimony. Memory is what the witness recalls about the event. It is important to recognize that the memory can be influenced by a variety of factors. Whereas, memory testimony is the witness’s statement of the what he or she recalls about a prior event. Memory testimony can also be influenced by a wide variety of events and processes; as a result, we have two processes that are susceptible to outside influences. (CITE PG 349) FACTORS THAT INFLUENCE THE MEMORY The factors that can influence memories are divided into groups depending on if they can be controlled by the criminal justice system or not.
They are as followed, system variables, estimator variables “System variables are variables introduced by police procedure and are preventable. ” (pg 349) This affects the accuracy of eyewitness identifications in many ways; for example how a lineup is structured, if there is videotaping present, interviewing techniques depending on how they are worded and directions given to the witness during a lineup” (cite text) Whereas,”Estimator variables refers to factors out of police control and typically occur before the police arrive on the scene.
These includes the view the witness had of the offender, lightning at the scene and visual activity. ” (pg 350) Though this variable is out of police control system variable procedures can be helped and improved. This is done by psychologists and is based on chronology or certain time frames depending on when the variables influenced the memory. “The chronological category looks at factors that influence memory based on when they occurred in the collection and preservation of the memory. (Cite text 350) There are a number of factors that could possibly influence eyewitness memories prior to the event involves witness characteristics like sex, age, intelligence, personality variables, visual acuity impairment due to alcohol or drug use and other sensory impairments. ” (CITE 350)
Factors influencing eyewitness memory during the event includes variables such as length of exposure to the perpetrator, use of a disguise, same race versus other race identification, lighting, view the witness had of the perpetrator, and weapon focus. CITE TEXT) Law enforcement officers do not usually have control over these factors, however, there are methods that can help in these situations like having a surveillance camera present and functioning. After the event has occurred, is when the opportunity arises to enhance the witnesses recollection and accuracy of their testimony. This can be done through the use of suggestions from interviewers, exposure to sketches or photos that may bias a witness and the amount of time between the event and the recall of the details these are called postevent factors.
INITIAL CRIME REPORTS Collecting information immediately and correctly during the initial report of the crime is vital. Failing to do so could result in fallible information, which is something that should be avoided. It is necessary for the first responders to collect all the information from the witnesses and document and clarify it. Not clarifying the could result in the wrong information being documented due to minor miscommunications. Witnesses are strongly encouraged to avoid contacting the media or discussing the event with other witnesses because an innocent conversation can possibly influence their memory’s post event information.
An eyewitness’ memory can be affected during the identification process as well as after the identification has been made. Which is what makes these testimonies so fallible. MUG-BOOKS In the case of mug books and composite images which are compliations of previously arrested individuals. This is done in a way where photos of a kind are grouped together. However, all photo’s should be recent and only one photo per criminal should be placed in the arrangement. When it is time for the witness to take a look at the photo’s it should only be describes as a ‘collection of photographs.
The person overlooking the witness should inform them of a few details. The person that committed the offense may or may not be present any of the following photographs, it is okay if they are unable to identify a suspect. However, if the are able to identify a suspect their certainty on the identification will be questioned. LINEUP(THIS DOWN IS PLAGIARISM FIX IT NOW) A lineup is a procedure in which a criminal suspect (or picture of a suspect) is placed among other people (or pictures of others) and shown to an eyewitness to see if the witness will identify the suspect as the culprit in question. CITE EYEWITNESS TESTIMONY) Lineups can be one of the most crucial components of an investigation. Being capable of recognizing a face is extremely critical when it is time to identify someone attached to a crime.
However, caution must be taken because “eyewitnesses tend to express feelings of certainty when they mistakenly select someone from a lineup” (CITE EYEWITNESS TESTIMONY) Studies have been does to help in the assessment of the accuracy of eyewitness identifications based on the age of the witness. A previous meta-analysis indicated that children are less likely than adults to correctly reject a lineup that does not contain the culprit, but children five years and older are as likely as adults to make a correct identification if the culprit is in the lineup” (CITE ACROSS LIFESPANS) Very often police officers will ask eyewitnesses of crimes to view a lineup or an array of photographs to confirm or test the validity of their hypothesis regarding the offender’s identity or to support their evidence against a suspect.
They also sometimes identify a” lineup foil where a known innocent lineup member is present” (CITE EYEWITNESS IDENTIFICATION TEST) However errors in eyewitness identification can occur even when there are multiple witnesses present. It has been understood that fewer comparisons across test faces in addition to the amount of time the eyewitness can examine a face can be reflected in the identification process.
THINGS THAT AFFECT EYEWITNESS IDENTIFICATION (CRIME TYPE) “Eyewitnesses who are cognitively busy while witnessing a crime or while performing an identification task are less accurate in their identifications than others who were not cognitively busy. Field studies show that busy environments produce more identification errors than environments that are not busy. “(CITE CRIME TYPE) Being a witness to a crime is stressful, especially in cases where a weapon is present during the crime and also affecting the accuracy of the identification.
Understandably, the weapon draws the attention away from the face of the offender. There have been a lot of studies directed at the question of a weapon focus effect which is what was stated previously about drawing the attention away from the offender. “A metal analysis of these studies indicates that the presence of a weapon reduces the chances that the eyewitness can identify the holder of the weapon.
Loftus et al (1987) Monitored eyewitnesses’ eye movements and found that weapons draw visual attention away from other things such as the culprits face. ” (CITE EYEWITNESS TESTIMONY) LINEUP Another factor that could affect the accuracy of an eyewitness identification would be the extent of which known innocent people in a lineup (foils) meet the description of the felon can affect the veracity and, therefore, the end result of the testimony.
Lineup that are composed of individuals that meet the description of the perpetrator would undoubtedly yields more accurate identification than having individuals who have no similarities to the described culprit at all. However, persons participating in a lineup should not be identical to the so-called offender because that would be asking for an inaccurate, identification