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Eyewitness Testimony-Believe It or Not

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 1 2

eye witness
Credit: google images

           Eyewitness testimony has been proven to be unreliable and easily persuaded.  More needs to be done on the part of law enforcement to keep these types of incidences from occurring.  Over 200 persons have been falsely incarcerated based on eyewitness testimony. 

            Thanks to DNA technology those persons have since been exonerated.  There are holes in stories as it relates to your memory.  During a case of a rape many years ago the victim; Jennifer Thompson, spent her time during the ordeal trying to remember her perpetrator.  She was determined to be able to assist the police in arresting him.  When she was met at the hospital by the police she felt she remembered enough about the man to be of great assistance to the investigation.  Unfortunately for her and Ronald Cotton, she was wrong.  She not only identified the wrong person but played a significant part in him being found guilty and put into prison for over 11 years.  


            The memory is full of holes and there are many things that law enforcement can do to make the process better.  They can show the victims photos of the perpetrators one at a time.  They can let them know that the actual suspect’s photo may not be in the pictures they are looking at or in the lineup.  As stated by one psychologist they need to recognize that if it takes longer than 10 to 15 seconds to recognize the perpetrator than the likelihood of the witness being correct is very low.  The police should not be the ones assisting in the viewing of the photos and hey should not offer any reinforcement in the belief that the person that was chosen was the correct person.  It has been proven in studies that if you offer reinforcement after a suspect ischosen it leads the witness to believe that they must be correct. 

          From the case mentioned one very interesting part of the story is that when confronted with the real perpetrator, the victim had no idea it was him.  This was explained by another psychologist who suggested that “because she had been picking the same suspect all along that is the only person she could identify with.”  This clearly shows additional concerns with eyewitness testimony. Jurors are easily persuaded by this very testimony as they believe if the person was there they must know with certainty what happened and who was involved.   If law enforcement is educated on memory and how to protect it; they could resolve a lot of the issues and not be partly responsible for sending innocent people to prison.



Jun 6, 2012 7:11pm
Good article. Research is finding just how unreliable not only eye witness testimony is, but also memory.
Jun 7, 2012 1:11am
Exactly Etcetera, eye witness testimony can be dangerous to a person's freedom.
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