The Accuracy of an Eyewitness Testimony
Student: Amy Mason
Tutor: Serena Nicholls
Tutorial Time: Thursday 10am - 10:50am
Due date: Friday 21st September 21, 2012
Word count: 1858
Psychological research shows that eyewitness testimony is not always accurate, therefore it should not be used in the criminal justice system. Discuss.
The reliability if an eyewitness testimony is questionable. The witness may be so certain that the person that thy are pointing out is one hundred per cent the suspect or they could be so certain when it comes to retelling the incident, although these people are so sure on what it is they are doing, their testimony cannot always accurate. Due to the lack of accuracy with eyewitness testimonies, they should not be used as the most reliable piece of evidence.
The criminal justice system relies heavily on eyewitness identification for investigating and prosecuting crimes (Wells & Olson, 2003) because a testimony from an eyewitness is so strong within a case, you would expect the accuracy and reliability of that testimony to be very high. When we look at criminal statistics, we know that most victims know who the offender is, therefore the risk of an innocent misidentification is minimal (Howitt, 2012) It is circumstances where the victim and victimizer are strangers that can cause risk of an innocent misidentification (Howitt, 2012) When discussing the accuracy of an eyewitness testimony one should look at the Cotton case. Ronald Cotton was sentenced to life imprisonment after he was found guilty for rape. The victim and eyewitness, Jennifer Thompson had picked Mr. Cottons picture out of a group of pictures and also identified him in a line up. When the case went to court, when asked who attacked her the night of the incident, Thompson pointed to cotton. Because Jennifer had made such an effort to identify her attacker the night she was attacked, and had chosen Cotton in the lineup, his photo and in the courtroom, the jurors took this testimony as very reliable and accurate evidence. Thus finding Ronald Cotton guilty. After spending over ten years in prison a DNA sample proved the Ronald Cotton was in fact not the rapist and had been wrongfully imprisoned (Wise, Fisherman, Safer. 2009). This definitely raises the question: how accurate is an eyewitness testimony? And should eyewitness testimonies as evidence be removed from the justice system? I personally believe that an eyewitness testimony is not always accurate, made clear by the case above, in saying that, I don’t believe that it should be taken out of the justice system completely. Eyewitness testimonies or evidence may still prove to be helpful within a case however, not be used as the most reliable evidence.
There are many factors that need to be considered when assessing the accuracy of ones eyewitness testimony those factors are: characteristics of the witness, characteristics of the witnessed event, characteristics of testimony, lineup content, lineup instructions, and methods of testing. (Wells & Olson. 2003) The major causes for wrongful eyewitness testimonies/identification, according to Wise, Fisherman and Safer are: * The nature of human memory: this claims that, although we like to believe it, our memories are not like a video camera. When trying to recall an incident we may not be able to remember them exactly, details may be missing or disturbed. * Eyewitness Bias: “ an eyewitness’s expectations, atitudes, belief and knowledge not only influences what an eyewitness recalls about the crime, but also what the eyewitness perceives about the crime”. This means that the victim may focus a lot more on a specific thing about the culprit. For example, a hairdresser may pay more attention the culprits’ hair than anything else. Because of this, other information or characteristics about the case may be forgotten or incorrect. * Misinformation effect: information the eyewitness learns...
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