Fallibility Of Memory, Perception, And Vision In Eyewitness Testimony Essay

Length: 3 pages Sources: 4 Subject: Criminal Justice Type: Essay Paper: #21950282 Related Topics: False Memories, Wrongful Conviction, Reliability, Crime Scene
Excerpt from Essay :

¶ … eyewitness testimony is far from being a gold standard in criminal justice. At least 75% of wrongful convictions for violent crimes including rape and murder were based on eyewitness testimony, and many of those convictions led to the death penalty (Bohannon 2014). Stambor (2006) found that 78% of wrongful convictions were based on overreliance on eyewitness testimony. It is therefore critical to reexamine the policies and procedures surrounding the collection and use of eyewitness testimony in criminal cases. Emerging research in perception, cognition, and the study of memory provides the framework with which to base a reform of criminal justice procedures. Training of police officers, and a comprehensive debriefing of judges, juries, and the witnesses themselves, are also possible solutions for minimizing problems with eyewitness reports. Although eyewitness testimony can be tremendously helpful in criminal cases, the evidence must be analyzed in a scientific and systematic manner.

Some of the problems that may affect the validity of eyewitness testimony include being under stress during the event witnessed, being under stress during


During lineups, police officers often divulge cues unconsciously but subconsciously perceived by the eyewitness. For example, "A detective might smile, grunt, or nod approvingly when a suspect is chosen," (Bohannon 2014). Asking leading questions can distort memory or create false memories (McLeod 2009). Eyewitness recall can be affected by any number of factors. "Although the individual may be unaware of it, memories are forgotten, reconstructed, updated, and distorted," (National Academy of Sciences 2014).

Moreover, memories are often constructed to fit schemas. Stereotypes and subconscious racism and other biases can greatly affect the accuracy of an eyewitness recall. According to the National Academy of Sciences (2014), "eyewitnesses are more likely to make mistakes when making an identification among people of another race rather than when making an identification of a person from the eyewitness's own race." Eyewitnesses also have trouble identifying faces when there was a weapon present during the witnessed event. Known as "weapon focus," the tendency for the mind to focus on the details of the weapon as opposed to the face of the person wielding the weapon, is a well-documented issue related to the validity of eyewitness perception (McLeod 2009). Other aspects of the visual system impact the reliability of eyewitness testimony, such as lighting and distance. The greater the distance between eyewitness and suspect, the less likely the eyewitness can accurately pull the correct person out of a lineup, which is why…

Sources Used in Documents:


Albright, T & Rakoff, J 2015, Eyewitnesses aren't as reliable as you might think, The Washington Post, 30 January, Available from: http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/eyewitnesses-arent-as-reliable-as-you-might-think/2015/01/30/fe1bc26c-7a74-11e4-9a27-6fdbc612bff8_story.html

Bohannon, J 2014, How reliable is eyewitness testimony? Scientists weigh in, American Association for the Advancement of Science, Available from: http://news.sciencemag.org/policy/2014/10/how-reliable-eyewitness-testimony-scientists-weigh

McLeod, S 2009, Eyewitness testimony, Simply Psychology, Available from: http://www.simplypsychology.org/eyewitness-testimony.html

National Academy of Sciences, 2014, Report Urges Caution in Handling and Relying Upon Eyewitness Identifications in Criminal Cases, Recommends Best Practices for Law Enforcement and Courts, Available from: http://www8.nationalacademies.org/onpinews/newsitem.aspx?RecordID=18891

Cite this Document:

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