Stress and fear affect our memory. The academics’ mistake, he says, is to include in their analyses data from participants in controlled studies who point to a figure in the lineup who is not a suspect—a volunteer known as a “filler.” (In 20 to 25 percent of the 75,000 police lineups conducted annually, the witness picks a filler.) Even if the information is incorrect, a witness’ confidence can make a jury believe they are hearing an undeniable truth. For some time now, numerous eyewitness memory scholars have believed that, at least in some circumstances, there can be a modest relationship between how confident eyewitnesses say they were at the time of identifying a suspect (as opposed to during the trial) and the likelihood that they correctly selected the culprit from a lineup or an array of mug shots. So the memory of other people and their appearance can change or fade. As the Thomson example illustrates, an eyewitness identification can even outweigh a strong alibi supported by other testimony. All Rights Reserved. Within cognitive psychology, eyewitness testimony is heavily researched as juries tend to pay close attention to the details a witness is recalling. Witnesses may also be asked about the facts of the case. As stated before, a lot of eyewitness testimony can rely solely on memory. In an effort to reduce the risk of this sort of witness contamination, criminal justice reform advocates such as Wells and the Innocence Project have pushed for the adoption of a “double-blind” lineup system, in which no one accompanying the witness knows who the suspect is. In fact, there are several issues that can arise when it comes to eyewitness testimony, which in turn, makes the testimony of an eyewitness unreliable in court. Thompson’s confident testimony was instrumental in prompting the jury to convict. DNA evidence has played a big role in proving the unreliability of eyewitness testimony. Traditionally, the lineup administrator knows who is the suspect and who are the nonsuspect “fillers.” This knowledge can contribute to miscarriages of justice—for example, if the administrators ask leading questions that sway the witness’s choice, such as, “Do you think it’s that guy?” These administrators can also make statements that inflate the witness’s confidence level, such as, “We thought that was the one,” or “Are you sure…?” Even unconscious cues such as body language may taint the selection process In the case of Ronald Cotton, there is significant evidence to suggest that leading remarks from the detective present when Jennifer Thompson identified Cotton pushed her to become increasingly certain about her suspect ID. To the swelling chorus of activists and researchers who argue that eyewitness testimony is both fundamentally unreliable and over-relied upon, the Cotton case is a prime example of what can go tragically wrong when court cases hinge on human recollection. Then in, 1989 the first person was exonerated through the use of DNA evidence. One academic who believes the relationship between initial confidence and accuracy is strong is John T. Wixted, a psychology professor at the University of California, San Diego. Robbery Charges and Armed Robbery Charges, As a result, the witness may accuse the wrong person, Ontario Courts Reopening for Criminal Trials. As well, time plays havoc with our memories. Police can plant false memories in witnesses by asking leading questions or using suggesting language. The Ontario Court of Justice resumed criminal case management matters as of November […], In his attempt to steal Christmas, the Grinch committed a litany of crimes. Editorial: Eyewitness testimony is often unreliable and police and lawmakers know it Francisco “Franky” Carrillo, Jr., who was wrongfully imprisoned for 20 years, seated next to … However, it’s actually the opposite: if all the witnesses to an event give an identical testimony, there is reason to suspect collusion. Also, there are many ways that the criminal justice system can, purposefully or not, contaminate an eyewitness’s perspective during the suspect ID process and inflate their confidence on the spot. Days after the rape, she hesitated over six mug shot options for almost five minutes before she finally selected Cotton’s picture and uttered a tentative “I think this is the guy.” And she waffled a good deal before fingering him during a police lineup later on. That form of analysis asks the question: based on whether the ID was correct or not, how well can you deduce the initial confidence of the witness? Researchers have found that the words investigators use to gather facts can influence how people respond when asked about the details of an event. 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. Despite the scientific consensus that eyewitness testimony is unreliable and the Supreme Court’s recognition that “the annals of criminal law are rife with instances of mistaken identification,” eyewitness identification testimony remains among the most convincing evidence presented to jurors (Manson v. Brathwaite, 1977). Aim: To test their hypothesis that the language used in eyewitness testimony can alter memory. This can, therefore, result in unreliable eyewitness testimony. https://t.co/jU6uua9OFq 37 days ago, Office: 416-900-0998 Toll Free: 1 844 LAW WILL Fax: 647 439 1566, 43 Front St. East, Suite 400, Toronto, Ontario, M5E 1B3. As well, eyewitnesses show a much higher rate of error when trying to identify people of a different race. Studies have been showing significant concern over their accuracy, all the way back to the 1960s. What is misleading information? So even if they were unsure when selecting someone from a lineup they will, over time become convinced that they are certain. Eyewitness testimony is the account a bystander or victim gives in the courtroom, describing what that person observed that occurred during the specific incident under investigation. September 4, 2019. And some experts in the field go so far as to say that the relationship between initial confidence and accuracy is actually quite strong. Especially when they see something unfamiliar or under stress. Research has found that eyewitness-identification testimony can be very unreliable. But this is the wrong question, Wixted says. Skeptics routinely bring up alleged contradictions in the eyewitness accounts (both in general, and in the case of the New Testament particularly), as proof that such testimony is unreliable. November 4, 2011 Every year, more than 75,000 eyewitnesses identify criminal suspects, but as … In fact, it’s easy manipulated whether intentionally and unintentionally. If you or a loved one are facing charges in a case of mistaken identity, you need a lawyer with experience in challenging evidence and eyewitness testimony. The other researchers typically count this as a wrong guess in their calculations to deduce the reliability of eyewitnesses who take the stand. Eyewitness identifications play an important role in the investigation and prosecution of crimes, but it is well known that eyewitnesses make mistakes, often with serious consequences. Eyewitness testimony can be an incredibly compelling form of evidence during criminal justice proceedings in Austin. But it’s at the center of a vigorous debate among eyewitness memory experts. Paying particular attention to the lack of initial confidence in such a case could lead to a faulty acquittal. William Jaksa is a Toronto criminal defence lawyer who will help you understand your options and potential outcomes. This is no small difference. An eyewitness may not be reliable for several reasons -- and they don't all have to do … An eyewitness who steps into the witness box holds the jury’s full attention, as well as, that of the audience. But in the real world these witnesses who pick a filler don’t take the stand. Studies have been showing significant concern over their accuracy, all the way back to the 1960s. In the US, mistaken eyewitness identification ended to 71% of wrongful convictions. The fact the eyewitness testimony can be unreliable and influenced by leading questions is illustrated by the classic psychology study by Loftus and Palmer (1974) Reconstruction of Automobile Destructiondescribed below. To do so, it often uses information we receive later. This recollection is used as evidence to show what happened from a witness' point of view. But by the time she took the stand she was steadfast. In short, the ripple effect causes witnesses to double down after they accuse someone. The outcome of this debate could have important ramifications for the criminal justice system, and could add an important layer of nuance to the critiques of eyewitness testimony. Many parts of that paper read as a revision, if not outright rebuttal, of some of Wells’s scholarship. Neuroscience and behavioral research into memory cuts directly against confidence in eyewitness testimony expressed by police and jurors in surveys, writes psychologist Mark L. … Wixted vigorously denies these claims, pointing to an as-yet unpublished literature review he and his colleagues have written in order to further buttress their claims about the relationship between initial confidence levels and accuracy. In the following video, a classroom experiment shows both the inaccuracy of eyewitness identification. Ronald Cotton had supposedly attacked Jennifer Thompson. 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. So if the police show them a picture of a subject who vaguely matches their recollection, they’re more likely to accept it. When we don’t have all the details, our brains fill in the gaps in our memories. Why can eyewitness testimony be unreliable? It’s been able to definitively prove that eyewitness accounts were incorrect. Because people's memories can be fragile and are often easily distorted. Concerns over eyewitness testimony are nothing new in criminal trials. This causes problems for not only the wrongfully accused, but also for the police, who may stop pursuing other leads. As it happened, Cotton wound up in prison with a man named Bobby Poole, who was also in for rape and who so resembled Cotton the two were often mistaken for one another. It can be suggested that juries should also consider the factors that could influence the recall of events as this is one of the reasons as to why eyewitness testimony may be seen as unreliable. Loftus and Palmer (1974) Study. The second reason eyewitness testimony is unreliable has to do with the nature of memory. Thompson seemed like an ideal witness; she had kept calm during the rape, carefully studying her attacker’s appearance in case she was later called upon to identify him. For example, someone may not remember what an assailant looked like, but they are subconsciously open to suggestion. Copyright © William Jaksa. If juries really can rely a great deal on a witness’s initial confidence level to help them decide if the defendant is guilty or innocent, then instructing jurors to trust that barometer could, at least in theory, help courts do a significantly better job of acquitting the innocent and convicting the guilty. Eyewitness testimony is a potent form of evidence for convicting the accused, but it is subject to unconscious memory distortions and biases even among the most confident of witnesses. All new gifts are being doubled by a generous group of Marshall Project supporters. Wixted found that taking filler ID data out of his analyses ultimately reveals a stronger—and he believes more true—relationship between initial confidence and accuracy. This is sometimes unfortunate because eyewitness memory is highly fallible. In this article, take a look at the problems with eyewitness testimony. Science — The science of why eyewitness testimony is often wrong Wrongful convictions are often the product of eyewitness testimony. For example, if someone witnesses an armed robbery with a gun they’re attention is on the firearm, not on the assailant. Eyewitness testimony is key but just how reliable is at work about the find out. Altering details can be problematic because if an eyewitness testimony squanders, then it may be dismissed from the case. Ideally this recollection of events is detailed; however, this is not always the case. In fact, concerns about the reliability of eyewitness testimony were almost completely ignored for over 20 years. Eyewitnesses statements often play a vital role in securing criminal convictions – police surveys show that eyewitness testimony is the main form of … Using either of the two mechanisms for forgetting, explain how this happens. Mistaken eyewitness identifications contributed to approximately 71% of the more than 360 wrongful convictions in the United States overturned by post-conviction DNA evidence.• Inaccurate eyewitness identifications can confound investigations from the earliest stages. Poole eventually blabbed to another inmate that he was Jennifer Thompson’s true attacker. Brandon Garrett of the University of Virginia School of Law, for example, recently analyzed 161 cases of eyewitness misidentification that later resulted in DNA exonerations. Reading your post made me think of one case I learned about in high school. Their testimony has a strong effect on jurors. 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