cases where eyewitness testimony is reliable

All rights Reserved. At Holland Law, we aggressively fight the allegations and charges against you with strategic defense. She confidently pointed to him as the man who raped her. In a recent review of the literature, the authors reported across 15 experiments, suspect identifications made with high confidence were, on average, 97 percent accurate! If the contaminated evidence is relied on to establish guilt versus innocence at a trial, the risk of a wrongful conviction is high. However, research into this area has found that eyewitness testimony can be affected by many psychological factors: Anxiety / Stress "I think this is the guy," she told the police after several minutes of hesitation. External input makes eyewitness testimony unreliable. While eyewitness testimony is not reliable as your sole means of proof, it can still be helpful as supporting evidence. The ability of a person who witnesses a crime to later pick the perpetrator out of a lineup is atrocious—right? The results don't mean that eyewitnesses aren't prone to confident false memories as in the Cotton case, Wixted says, but timing is key. To make sure that the police could not unintentionally influence the process, officers who didn’t know who the real suspect was presented photos of six people to the eyewitnesses. By itself, that fact only shows that contaminated memory is unreliable (just as contaminated DNA evidence is). Not so with eyewitness memory. Attorney Randolph Hough has decades of criminal defense experience and will put that experience to work for you to protect your freedom and reputation. Eyewitness testimony is an important area of research in cognitive psychology and human memory. 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. And have you read a recent peer-reviewed paper that you would like to write about? Young adults (17 – 25) and older adults (65 – 85) were shown a video of a theft. Gareth, a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist, is the series editor of Best American Infographics and can be reached at garethideas AT gmail.com or Twitter @garethideas. Hundreds of innocent people have been exonerated by DNA evidence in the United States since the 1990s, and eyewitness misidentification was the root cause in 70% of the cases. More recently, I have focused my attention upon how this memory research can be applied to real life situations, in particular to that of an eyewitness testimony situation where a person must use their eyewitness memory to recall an event that has taken place. But he worries that police, jurors, and even judges will misinterpret eyewitness confidence levels. This can affect eyewitness testimony because what if the witness is better in recalling than in recognizing. Researchers are increasingly finding that the problem with eyewitness testimony is based on a common misunderstanding of how memory functions. In much the same way, an eyewitness can be led to falsely remember someone committing a crime that was actually committed by someone else. Juries are told to discount the value of eyewitness testimony and ignore how confident the witnesses may be about whom they think they saw. Instead evidence collected at the contaminated crime scene would probably be declared inadmissible. And indeed, that's exactly how it worked out. Eyewitness testimony is unreliable because people try to understand a traumatic event by using what they know about the world and fill in gaps, experts said. According to the same theory, 33 years later, in 2002, in an almost inconceivable coincidence, evidence samples from Mixer, Ruelas and Leiterman just happened to be together again in the Michigan State Police Laboratory. To see why, let us revisit those DNA exoneration cases that so often involve eyewitness misidentification. 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. First, another DNA profile—one belonging to John Ruelas, who was just a four-year-old preschooler at the time of the murder—was found on a blood spot taken from the victim’s left hand. What facts gave rise to the belief that Leiterman may have been wrongfully convicted based on contaminated evidence? So a team led by John Wixted, a psychologist at the University of California (UC), San Diego, ran an experiment with the robbery division of the Houston Police Department in Texas. Under the right circumstances, eyewitness testimony can be reliable. Eyewitness testimony can play a big part in criminal court cases. Why is this the case? The answer seems like a resounding “yes” if you consider some well-known and rather disconcerting information. Discover new insights into neuroscience, human behavior and mental health with Scientific American Mind. For every one of those tests, the eyewitnesses were, at best, uncertain. But increasingly it is being found that this is not the case. And when the police had ample corroborating evidence against the suspects, the rate of positive identification by confident eyewitnesses shot up to 90%, the team reports online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. So, how reliable is eyewitness testimony? However, smart criminal defense attorneys know that witness accounts are never 100% reliable. Faulty eyewitness testimony has been implicated in at least 75% of DNA exoneration cases—more than … What it means is that the malleability of memory can harm reliability. Whether or not a person is convicted of a crime can come down to the reliability of an eyewitness and how confidently he or she conveys testimony to a jury. Each case also had a certain amount of corroborating evidence, ranging from weak—the suspect was known to be close to the scene of the crime—to strong—the suspect's shoes matched a footprint at the scene. Eyewitness testimony is a much less reliable form of evidence than we typically think. The sooner police, prosecutors and judges understand that fact, the better off we all will be—including you, if you are ever incorrectly fingered by an eyewitness. Weapon focus refers to a factor that affects the reliability of eyewitness testimony. 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. Because of examples like these, the U.S. justice system has been changing how eyewitnesses are used in criminal cases. But in 57 percent of those cases, it was possible to determine what happened on the initial (uncontaminated) memory test. Current procedures for collecting and assessing evidence from eyewitnesses are often not designed to minimize contamination.This problem does not apply to other kinds of forensic evidence. 29 The Flowers case relied on three key points of evidence: (1) the eyewitness testimony of people who placed Curtis Flowers on the route from his home, to steal a gun, back to his home and then to Tardy to commit the murders and then home again (2) ballistics and (3) jailhouse confessions. The nearly simultaneous analyses of evidence from these three cases in the same crime lab in 2002—a reunion, of sorts, among Mixer, Ruelas and Leiterman, who were ostensibly last together on the night of the murder in 1969—was either an incredible coincidence or the Mixer evidence was contaminated with DNA from both Leiterman and Ruelas. Please send suggestions to Mind Matters editor Gareth Cook. © 2020 American Association for the Advancement of Science. Consider, for example, the case of Gary Leiterman, who, in 2005, was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison following a cold case investigation in which his DNA was found on the clothing of a woman named Jane Mixer, who was murdered in 1969. Just because memory is malleable—for example, it can be contaminated with the trace of an innocent person—does not mean that it has to be unreliable. And what can we do about it? Even if there is a small detail in an eyewitness testimony that doesn’t match with the testimony of another, the witness account can be helpful as long as there is a lot of physical evidence that backs up the main points that are given. Eyewitness testimony can be quite powerful in the eyes of a jury, but it’s important to remember that it’s not one hundred percent reliable. In a particularly famous case, a man named Ronald Cotton was identified by a rape victim, Jennifer Thompson, as her rapist, and was found guilty and sentenced to … To help the amount of wrongful convictions, judges, jurors and prosecutors need to be better educated in eyewitness testimonies and the factors that can result in an eyewitness testimony being false. DNA evidence has played a big role in proving the unreliability of eyewitness testimony. But factoring in the confidence of the eyewitness painted a different picture. In order for jurors to accurately weigh the value of testimony by its initial confidence, they will need to use sophisticated statistical reasoning, he says. The justice system should reconsider how eyewitness testimony is used, he says, because "there's a lot at stake here." Once an eyewitness gets to court to give testimony, false memories may have become crystallized. They focused on 348 robberies that occurred in 2013 and involved eyewitnesses and a single suspect. Thompson picked out 22-year-old Ronald Cotton, whose photograph was on file because of a robbery committed in his youth. ATTACHMENT A Summaries of 46 Cases in Which Mistaken or Perjured Eyewitness Testimony Put Innocent Persons on Death Row Adams, Randall Dale (convicted 1977, exonerated 1989) — Mr. Adams was sentenced to death for the murder of a police officer in Dallas County, Texas. But in most cases, that confidence is misplaced. He was eventually sentenced to life in prison based on Thompson's testimony. Faulty eyewitness testimony has been implicated in at least 75% of DNA exoneration cases—more than any other cause ( Garrett, 2011 ). If confidence really is a strong indicator of accuracy, the researchers reasoned, eyewitnesses who were more certain of their choice should be more likely to identify the suspects who also had abundant corroborating evidence, and eyewitnesses who double-guessed themselves should be less accurate. People are different in the way they recognize and recall events especially through perception. The results of the study make sense, says Aaron Benjamin, a psychologist at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, because disregarding eyewitness confidence is "dramatically inconsistent with widely accepted views about memory." Psychologists have learned a lot about why such errors happen. The same is true of eyewitness memory: memory can be contaminated with the trace of an innocent person, but under proper testing conditions, eyewitness evidence is highly reliable. As with DNA evidence, eyewitness evidence needs to be safeguarded against contamination. Just hours later, a sketch artist worked with Thompson to create an image of the assailant's face. I have spent over five years studying different areas of memory, such as how people remember different episodes of their lives. Subsequent memory tests, including the dramatic one that occurs in court in front of the jury, constitute contaminated evidence. ", But many researchers are calling for caution before changing the system. Out of the 130 cases, 78 convictions were based solely on eyewitness testimony (Bryant, 2020). 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That contaminated memory is, in our view, pointing the finger of blame in the way they recognize recall..., distinction between malleability and reliability adults ( 65 – 85 ) shown! To create an image of the 130 cases, it was possible determine! Thing, testimony from eyewitnesses is not as reliable as your sole means of proof, it can be... Scientist who specializes in neuroscience, cognitive science, or psychology who decide the fate of of! Of an innocent person convincing him to not kill her individual ’ s been able to definitively prove eyewitness...

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