False Identification and Lineup Instructions Biased/Unbiased There Research Paper

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False Identification and Lineup Instructions Biased/Unbiased

There are many instances where people have been wrongly accused only because they were falsely identified or either because there was not enough evidence present that would prove them guilty. George Allen Jr. was convicted in 1983 on the charges of capital murder, rape, sodomy and first degree burglary. It has been noted that the reason for his false conviction was false confession, invalid or improper forensic evidence and government misconduct (Innocenceproject.org, 2013). Another case is of Barry Gibbs who was charged with second degree murder in the year 1988. He was wrongly charged due to eyewitness misidentification and government misconduct. It was noted that Barry Gibbs served 17.5 years of jail time before he was exonerated in the year 2005. (Innocenceproject.org, 2013)

These cases therefore give an idea that eyewitness misidentification is a very important cause of wrongful convictions all over the country and the world. It has now been speculated that eye witness identification is often unreliable because the human mind is not like a tape recorder. It cannot remember or recall events exactly how they happened. Even though eye witness information might seem like a reliable piece of evidence, there are factors that can cause it be inaccurate.

Seeing how crime is increasing all around the world, eyewitness identification play an important part in identification of the guilty. Even though eye witness identification may have gotten many people charged and convicted, this conviction might have been false all along. With the advent of better forensics techniques like finger printing and DNA testing, a lot of the people have now been exonerated. It has been noted that the confidence and retrospective report of the eye witness varies with the way the jurors and the investigators deal with the eye witnesses (Wells, Olsen and Charman, 2002) It was seen that many things went on to affect the response that the eye witnesses gave. These identifications responses seemed to vary according to the ease and bias of questioning that they attained.

Even though eye witness might have helped to solve crime in some cases, this phenomenon has also gone to spread a lot injustice around the world. It is considered to be an unreliable form of evidence and one that is easily biased (Brandon and Davies, 1973). Sobel, Vogelman, Ruoff, and Pridgen (2011) stated that identification is one of the major determining factors in a lot of jury verdicts. Their major argument was they considered this form of eyewitness identification and statements the most decent and most persuasive kind of evidence. It should be noted that there are two sorts of errors that can occur in this process. Maplass and Devine (1981) stated that either the person can wrongly accuse another person or he can miss out the right person. This means that when the witness is presented with a lineup possible offender, they can choose the wrong person or state that they don't recognize anyone. In both cases, the end result is that either the guilty is not charged or an innocent person is accused of a crime he didn't commit.

Fallible eyewitness testimony goes on to risk the entire concept of criminal justice. Two types of variables have gone to be estimated that go on to reduce the accuracy of eyewitnesses.

Estimator Variables

Estimator variables are variables because they are linked to the actual crime that took place. They are linked to the crime, the perpetrator the witness and they are unchangeable (Wells, 1972). The amount of time that the witness was exposed to the relevant stimuli is very important. Loftus (1972) stated that picture recognition is a monotonically increasing function of exposure time. Lack of familiarity with the size or the distance of the surrounding objections can greatly go on to distort the estimate of the size, distance and the acceleration of the perpetrator (Grether and Baker, 1972). It should also be noted that when the witness is in the process of seeing a crime from his own eyes, he might be in a very traumatized and panicked state. It has been noted that the accuracy of the witness decreases as the severity of the crime increases (Leippe, Wells and Ostrom, 1978). It is also noted that if the crime that took place is more complex, the recognizability and eventually accuracy may also increase (Loftus, 1972) Johnson (1984) stated that there are more chances of false identification when the person offender involved in the crime is of a different race than the witness. In other words, the accuracy would be more in within-race identifications as opposed otherwise. Furthermore, the degree of stress may also alter the identification accuracy (Christianson, 1992).

Eye witness confidence is also another problem because false identifications would not be present as such if eyewitness confidence was not so high. The relation between the accuracy of the identification and the confidence that is expressed by the witness has long been a topic of interest. It has been stated that over all confidence expression attained immediately after a positive identification can be a useful guide for investigators about how accurate the identification is. Smith, Kassin and Ellsworth (1989) carried out study between to figure out the relationship between confidence and accuracy. They stated that confidence is not a useful predictor of the accuracy of a particular witness. Similarly, an investigator cannot guarantee any statement accurate solely on the basis of the confidence of the witness (Smith, Kassin and Ellsworth, 1998)

System Variables

System variables are basically factors are under the control of the criminal justice system (Wells, 1972). The retention interval is very important because memory does tend to decay with the passage of time. It was seen that with increased time delay, the accuracy of the witnesses got poorer (Lipton, 1977). These include the way in which the law enforcement agencies go on to retrieve and record the information from the witness (Loftus and Palmer, 1974). A very important factor is the instructions that are given to the witnesses before they go on to make their selection. It is seen that the understanding of the problem is a major factor in influencing the choice that is made by the witness. Buckhout et.al (1975) went on to compare the eyewitness viewing line ups after biased and unbiased instructions. It was noted that biased instructions went on to convince the witness that the offender is present in the lineup. However, the unbiased instructions did give the witness a clear idea of the offender being absent from the lineup. Malpass and Devine (1981) also carried out a study in which eyewitnesses of staged vandalism attained different lineup instructions under conditions in which the offender was either absent or present. Biased instructions meant that the witnesses had to choose someone. On the other hand, the unbiased instructions included a "no choice" option. The results revealed that identification errors were increased under biased instructions in which the offender was present and absent. Furthermore, in unbiased instructions, the eyewitnesses attained false results because they rejected the entire line up even though the offender was present in it (Malpass and Devine, 1981)

These four hypothesis regarding witness identification will be tested in the study.

H1 ID confidence will be higher following an easy event memory test than following a more difficult one

H2 False IDs will be more likely following an easy memory test than following a more difficult one.

H3 ID confidence will be higher when lineup instructions are biased compared to when they are unbiased

H4 False IDs from a thief-absent lineup will be higher when instructions are biased than when instructions are unbiased.



Participants that were selected for this study were 55 undergraduate students. They were enrolled at Research Methods department of John Jay College of Criminal Justice.


They had to undergo two memory tests. One of these tests was easy; meanwhile the other was difficult. The same students were then given two lineup instructions. The instructions differed on the grounds of a bias. This implies that one of the lineup instructions was biased, and the other was unbiased. Moreover, these students were also given two more photo spread lineups; one of them was target oriented and in the other one target was absent.


The material that was used for this research was a video. The video was 5 minutes and 28 seconds long and was based on two students, male and female, who came to a psychology lab for an experiment. The two students were greeted by a male experimenter, who left the lab after greeting the students but did not take his laptop along, which was kept on the desk. After some time, another female entered the lab and claimed that she was also a participant of the experiment. During this time, the male student went to the restroom. When he was leaving the lab, another female student entered the lab since she had forgotten her bag there. She left soon after picking up her bag.…

Sources Used in Document:


Brandon, R. & Davies, C. (1973). Wrongful imprisonment. [Hamden, Conn.]: Archon Books.

Buckhout, R. & Others (1974). Determinants of eyewitness performance on a lineup.. Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society, 4 (3), 191-192.

Christianson, S. (1992). Emotional stress and eyewitness memory: a critical review. Psychological bulletin, 112 (2), 284.

Grether, W.F., & Baker, C.A. (1972). Visual presentation of information. In H.P. Van Cott & R.G. Kinkade (Eds.), Human engineering guide to equipment design (pp. 41-121). Washington, D.C.: American Institutes for Research

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