Eyewitness Testimony Etc In a Term Paper

  • Length: 12 pages
  • Subject: Psychology
  • Type: Term Paper
  • Paper: #60818452

Excerpt from Term Paper :

41+). Loftus notes that science has found "post-event information" is integrated into what most people have actually experienced because, "when people experience some actual event -- say a crime or an accident -- they often later acquire new information about the event. This new information can contaminate the memory" (Loftus, 2002, March, p. 41+).

In addition, many false memories are created, deliberately or by accident, in response to leading questioning by therapists or aggressive lawyers. "Subtle cues can be inadvertently conveyed and social reinforcements provided by interrogators operating with a biased set of expectations. But here, too, therapists, interrogators, lawyers, or worried parents may be innocent of any conscious intent to produce false testimony" (Callahan, 1993, p. 6+).

Callahan noted that once a false memory has been established, it becomes, for all intents and purposes, a true account to the one remembering it. "It is important to realize that what psychologists have called 'confident confabulations' are not the same thing as malicious lies which are consciously devised to deceive or harm others. Of course people do lie and knowingly bear false witness, but persons can also be sincerely mistaken in their memories" (Callahan, 1993, p. 6+).

Confabulation may also be a factor when hypnosis is used in a forensic context, in the belief that it confers enhanced recall, according to Webert (2003).

Vested interests

Sanchirico dealt with the appearance of eyewitnesses in certain crimes, noting that "The prevalence of witnesses with evident interests is no coincidence. To be useful in illuminating the underlying event or condition, a witness must have been both present and paying attention" (2004, p. 291+). He also noted that it followed, both theoretically and experimentally, that those who were present and paying attention probably had a personally meaningful reason to do so, an explanation of the odd occasion that an eyewitness is also found to have been in some way complicit in a crime.

Legal ramifications

Loftus noted that about 200 people a day are added to the roster of criminal defendants after being picked out of a lineup or even a photo spread. At the same time, wrongfully convicted individuals are being exonerated at a rapid pace because of DNA evidence, which "has given the world a real appreciation of the problem of faulty eyewitness memory, which is the major cause of wrongful conviction" (Loftus, 2002, March, p. 41+). In fact, as long ago as 1996, the U.S. Department of Justice reported that 80% of the innocent people convicted who were included in the department's study had been convicted "because f faulty eyewitness memory" (Loftus, 2002, March, p. 41+).

This is not a peculiarly American problem. A major case in Canada involved a man named Thomas Sophonow who had been wrongfully convicted of murdering a young waitress. After Sophonow had spent nearly four years in prison, an officially inquiry was held and corrections Commissioner Peter Cory, in discussing the wrongful conviction finding that resulted, noted that Sophonow was "psychologically scarred for life. He will always suffer from the core symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. As well, he will always suffer from paranoia, depression, and the obsessive desire to clear his name. His reputation as a murderer has affected him in every aspect of his life, from work to family relations" (Loftus, 2002, March, p. 41+). The case brought the issue to the attention of Canadian law enforcement, and even led to specific procedural changes in lineups and also generally guidance "such as encouraging judges to emphasize to juries the frailties of memory, to recount the tragedies of wrongful convictions, and to readily admit expert testimony on the subject of memory" (Loftus, 2002, March, p. 41+).

The United States also found itself rocked by a spectacular eyewitness-based wrongful conviction. In March 2000, Illinois instituted a moratorium on execution, the impetus for which had been the release of 13 men from death row during the previous ten years.

One had been sentenced to death on the "dubious testimony of a single eyewitness" and another because of two eyewitnesses who later recanted "and another man subsequently confessed and is now in prison" (Loftus, 2002, March, p. 41+). In addition, an Illinois commission made 85 recommendations, including "training in the science of memory for police, prosecutors, and defense lawyers and the development of jury instructions to educate the jurors about factors that can affect eyewitness memory" (Loftus, 2002, March, p. 41+).

Wells and Olson note, however, that sometimes eyewitness testimony is the only evidence available concerning some crimes, and they add it might never have come into question until DNA evidence became available and literally overturned hundreds of convictions based on eyewitness accounts. At that point, researchers attempted not only to define the parameters of memory, but also to define whose memories might be more reliable than those of others might.

Researchers asked whether there were characteristics tahta could indicate greater witness reliability, or lesser. They found no clear evidence that males or females are markedly different in their accuracy, at least as far as choosing criminals from lineups. One analysis indicated females might be "slightly more likely to make accurate identifications but also slightly more likely to make mistaken identifications than are males (due to females being more likely to attempt an identification), thereby yielding an overall equivalent diagnosticity for males and females" (Wells and Olson, 2003, p. 277+).

What did demonstrate a greater difference was the age of the eyewitness, with very young children and the elderly performing much less accurately than younger adults. In fact, research has found that"

The eyewitness identification errors of young children and the elderly are highly patterned: When the lineup contains the actual culprit, young children and the elderly perform nearly as well as young adults in identifying the culprit, but when the lineup does not contain the culprit the young children and the elderly commit mistaken identifications at a higher rate than do young adults....(Wells and Olson, 2003, p. 277+).

Gordon and Follmer reported similar findings. Accuracy of younger children in response to specific questions in their study, was less than that of older children, and "only 7-year-olds responded correctly at levels significantly above chance" (1994, p. 283-294).

The possible effects or race was also examined, and showed a better ability for individuals to accurately recognize members of their own race; this finding has held true for more than 25 years of continuing research into it (Wells and Olson, 2003, p. 277+).

Personal characteristics do apparently have an effect on eyewitness accuracy. Self-monitors, individuals who adapt their behavior to cues regarding what is appropriate are more likely to be inaccurate.

Individuals with high chronic anxiety (a general attitude of apprehension) were more likely to be accurate than those with low anxiety (Wells and Olson, 2003, p. 277+).

Characteristics of the event were also investigated. It was found that distinctive faces are more likely to be accurately recognized than non-distinctive ones. Those that are very attractive or very unattractive are easier to recognize. Simple disguises, as simple as a hat, also reduce accuracy. Changes in appearance due to the aging of the suspect also affect accuracy. The length of time a culprit's face was viewed during an event also positively affected the likelihood of an accurate eyewitness identification (Wells and Olson, 2003, p. 277+). The presence of a weapon being visibly used during a crime reduces the likelihood that a witness will accurately recall the criminal's face (Wells and Olson, 2003, p. 277+).

The certainty of an eyewitness that his or her information is reliable may be slightly correlated with accuracy.

Eyewitnesses who make an identification from a lineup relatively quickly are more likely to be accurate than those who take a long time. "In an impressive set of results, Dunning & Perretta found that those who made their decision in less than 10-12 seconds were nearly 90% accurate in their identifications from a lineup whereas those taking longer were approximately 50% correct" (Wells and Olson, 2003, p. 277+).

Wells and Olson compare conducting a lineup to conducting scientific research. "All the types of things that can go wrong with an experiment to cause misleading results can also go wrong with a lineup. For instance, the instructions might bias the witness, the hypothesis might be prematurely leaked, the design might be flawed, the behavior might be misinterpreted, confirmation biases might be operating, and so on" (Wells and Olson, 2003, p. 277+).

Despite all this research, juries still place a lot of faith in eyewitness accounts, so much so that Supreme Court Justice William Brennan once said, "[T]here is almost nothing more convincing than a live human being who takes the stand, points a finger at the defendant, and says 'That's the one!'" (Quoted by Handberg, 1995, p. 1013-1064).

Still, most courts have refused to allow defendants to call expert witnesses regarding the accuracy of eyewitness accounts.…

Cite This Term Paper:

"Eyewitness Testimony Etc In A" (2005, August 05) Retrieved January 16, 2017, from

"Eyewitness Testimony Etc In A" 05 August 2005. Web.16 January. 2017. <

"Eyewitness Testimony Etc In A", 05 August 2005, Accessed.16 January. 2017,