eyewitness testimony unreliable

After 10 years of incarceration, Thompson got his conviction overturned thanks to DNA evidence proving that Poole was in fact the culprit. Thompson’s confident testimony was instrumental in prompting the jury to convict. Paying particular attention to the lack of initial confidence in such a case could lead to a faulty acquittal. Their testimony has a strong effect on jurors. The most reliable parts of old memories are usually those most pertinent to the person recalling them. Especially when they see something unfamiliar or under stress. Benjamin Ryan is an editor at large at POZ magazine, where he covers the science of HIV and hepatitis C. His work has also appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Nation, New York magazine, The New York Observer, Men’s Journal, Out, and The Advocate. Then in, 1989 the first person was exonerated through the use of DNA evidence. Poole eventually blabbed to another inmate that he was Jennifer Thompson’s true attacker. Studies have been showing significant concern over their accuracy, all the way back to the 1960s. 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. Reading your post made me think of one case I learned about in high school. In the opposite camp is Iowa State University professor Gary Wells, the most prominent academic in the eyewitness field. 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. Even if the information is incorrect, a witness’ confidence can make a jury believe they are hearing an undeniable truth. Loftus and Palmer (1974) Study. But by the time she took the stand she was steadfast. 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. When considering highly confident witnesses in particular, Wixted says that other academics have mistakenly downplayed the reliability of these individuals’ trial testimony in another way. Many parts of that paper read as a revision, if not outright rebuttal, of some of Wells’s scholarship. But this is the wrong question, Wixted says. Here’s the thing, testimony from eyewitnesses is not always reliable. Chad Dodson, of the University of Virginia, for one, says that academics in the field of general memory research “have known for decades that under most conditions confidence is reliably associated with recognition accuracy.” Wixted’s analyses, Dodson and his colleague at UVA David Dobolyi both say, correctly apply this scientific principle to suspect identification. But what the jury didn’t know is that Thompson had been quite unsure of her choice when she initially identified Cotton. His own work has made up the backbone of the party line that an initial confidence level, in his words, “has some diagnostic value or is useful but far from perfect.” Wells accuses Wixted and his coauthors of cherry-picking data to support their claims and says they have exaggerated the strength of the connection between initial confidence and accuracy. Eyewitness testimony can be an incredibly compelling form of evidence during criminal justice proceedings in Austin. If the police do not follow careful methodology, such as using double-blinds and getting descriptions before showing suspects witnesses, they can alter their memory. Concerns over eyewitness testimony are nothing new in criminal trials. We look at the offences he may […], Famous last words: Pearls of wisdom from the gems we lost this year … https://t.co/wmALha0Wlu 4 days ago, Check out this Covid employment law CPD! November 4, 2011 Every year, more than 75,000 eyewitnesses identify criminal suspects, but as … The second reason eyewitness testimony is unreliable has to do with the nature of memory. Copyright © William Jaksa. Police can plant false memories in witnesses by asking leading questions or using suggesting language. A Skeptic Reads the Newspaper. For instance, distance and lighting can directly impact the accuracy of an eyewitness. 2 thoughts on “ Eyewitness Testimony is Unreliable ” Katherine Sharon Trimble October 24, 2014 at 12:30 am. Eyewitness memory is reliable when initially tested using proper procedures, but the legal system nonetheless habitually relies on unreliable (contaminated) eyewitness evidence from later IDs. Another 12 states have recommended these practices. Most people who witness a crime experience stress and/or fear. Some 75% of the wrongful convictions for rape and murder, including a number that led to people being scheduled for execution, were based on eyewitness testimony. 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. 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. This is sometimes unfortunate because eyewitness memory is highly fallible. Perhaps the most important thing to note is that, even though there is a popular perception of eyewitness testimony being among the most reliable forms of evidence available, the criminal justice system treats such testimony as being among the most fragile and even unreliable available. 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. In fact, it’s easy manipulated whether intentionally and unintentionally. 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. So even if they were unsure when selecting someone from a lineup they will, over time become convinced that they are certain. So if the police show them a picture of a subject who vaguely matches their recollection, they’re more likely to accept it. Neuroscience and behavioral research into memory cuts directly against confidence in eyewitness testimony expressed by police and jurors in surveys, writes psychologist Mark L. … 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. Examples like this remind us of how inaccurate eyewitness testimony can be, whether it’s a witness to a crime in a court of law, or a hunter who claims he saw Bigfoot in the Oregon woods: You can’t always trust your eyes. In 1985, a young white woman named Jennifer Thompson told a North Carolina courtroom that the man on trial, Ronald Cotton, a black restaurant dishwasher, had broken into her apartment and raped her at knifepoint the year before. Stress and fear affect our memory. In fact, concerns about the reliability of eyewitness testimony were almost completely ignored for over 20 years. Robbery Charges and Armed Robbery Charges, As a result, the witness may accuse the wrong person, Ontario Courts Reopening for Criminal Trials. But it’s at the center of a vigorous debate among eyewitness memory experts. John Timmer - Jul 25, 2017 5:25 pm UTC Ronald Cotton had supposedly attacked Jennifer Thompson. As a result, the witness may accuse the wrong person. Researchers have found that the words investigators use to gather facts can influence how people respond when asked about the details of an event. In this article, take a look at the problems with eyewitness testimony. Despite the known unreliability of eyewitness testimony, it remains an effective tool. Benjamin Radford. The other researchers typically count this as a wrong guess in their calculations to deduce the reliability of eyewitnesses who take the stand. Wells and Wixted agree on one point: that juries should be instructed to consider only a witness’s initial confidence level and to disregard any subsequent expressions of confidence or recollections of confidence—so long as the initial confidence level was actually recorded and the lineup was conducted under fair circumstances. What kinds of information do people normally forget? Using either of the two mechanisms for forgetting, explain how this happens. Is eyewitness testimony too unreliable to trust? 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 … 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. Other research has specifically pointed to this sort of confidence-inflation as a factor in wrongful convictions. All Rights Reserved. Studies have been showing significant concern over their accuracy, all the way back to the 1960s. It’s easier for people to accurately identify strangers of a similar racial background to their own. To do so, it often uses information we receive later. 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. As stated before, a lot of eyewitness testimony can rely solely on memory. An eyewitness may not be reliable for several reasons -- and they don't all have to do … The ripple effect is a common problem with eyewitness testimony. Law enforcement and the courts should follow the recommendations of social scientists when using and assessing eyewitness techniques, such as lineups, in criminal cases. Cotton was sentenced to life plus 50 years. 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. William Jaksa is a Toronto criminal defence lawyer who will help you understand your options and potential outcomes. But in the real world these witnesses who pick a filler don’t take the stand. Was instrumental in prompting the jury didn’t know is that Thompson had been quite unsure of choice... Of Wells’s scholarship it remains an effective tool think of one case I learned in! Honest and independent journalism is more urgent than ever then in, 1989 the first person was through... Details a witness is recalling Thomson example illustrates, an eyewitness testimony can be quite dangerous a! 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