Monthly Archives: August 2016

Eyewitness memory, testimony, and identification

Eyewitness memory and eyewitness identification, why so often do people get it wrong?  According to The Innocence Project, which is an organization founded in 1992 by Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld, is a national litigation and public policy organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted individuals through DNA testing and reforming the criminal justice system according to  Since the creation of The Innocence Project they have exonerated 342 cases through DNA and have found 147 real perpetrators that actually committed the crimes, (Innocence Project, 2016).  One of the lead causes of the wrongful convictions are eyewitness memory and eyewitness misidentification which we talked about in Lesson 9.  According to the project, at least 70% of wrongful convictions were due to faulty eyewitness identification (Innocence Project, 2016)

There have been several cases were witnesses picked suspects in the back of police cars almost 100 feet away.  Eyewitnesses have picked people in a line-up that had an r marked next to the suspect, and nothing on the other photos.  There have also been several cases were eyewitnesses pick who they thought it might be or someone that resembles the actual perpetrator.  So the question is how does this happen? Also, how can we fix it from not happening as much as it does.  According to our text, eyewitness testimony is testimony by an eyewitness to a crime about what he or she may have saw during the commission of the crime.  In the United States of America, 200 people per day become criminal defendants based on eyewitness testimony (Goldstein et al., 1989).  There have been several studies done in which eyewitnesses either picked the wrong person or could not even recognize the person that did it.  Memory is faulty.  Henderson et al., 2001 states that even under ideal conditions, identifying faces is a difficult task and errors occur.   There are several errors in why people mistake the identity of a person.  Errors are usually due to suggestion, familiarity, and attention.  Errors in attention happen when eyewitnesses are focusing on one thing and forget other details.  Errors due to suggestion happen when a police officer or another person infers or suggest things which then “bring back the memory” of the eyewitness or make them remember things they did not know or have any clue about.  Errors due to familiarity happen when eyewitnesses pick innocent bystanders or someone they saw at the scene due to the fact that they remember their face, even though they were not the actually perpetrators.

Different groups are working with law enforcement agencies to make sure policies are being adopted that decrease the amount of wrongful convictions based off bad eye witness testimony. The Innocent Project has asked police departments to adopt policies, in which they do the following on all line-ups, a Blind/Blinded administration where the officer administering the lineup is unaware of who the suspect is, which helps reduce sugguestive practices.  Lineup composition on all line-ups, that include “Fillers” (the non-suspects included in a lineup) should resemble the eyewitness’ description of the perpetrator. That all officers give instructions to the person viewing the lineup, letting them know that the perpetrator may or may not be in the lineup and that the case will continue regardless of the line-up.  The IP also wants all law enforcement to get written statements from the eyewitness articulating his or her level of confidence in the identification made at the time that the identification is made and to record all procedures, this all according to o  I think that if all these things are done it could drastically reduce the number

Cognitive Psychology Third Edition-Goldstein