Eyewitness evidence can be fundamental when it comes to solving crimes, however, with the increasing number of cases now being exonerated by DNA evidence, the questions lies, what degree of confidence should be placed on the evidence of the eyewitnesses alone? Countless factors are associated with the accuracy and consistency of eyewitness evidence, such as line up content, line up instructions, the questioning techniques of interviewers and notably the gender and/or age of the witness. Eyewitness testimony may not always be accurate, but despite its weaknesses, by using empirical studies to guide reforms, eyewitness testimony can be an extremely beneficial instrument in the criminal justice system. Inaccurate evidence is not necessarily due to the individual’s testimony. Inaccuracy stems from the processes and methods used by the justice system to elicit the evidence from the eyewitness.
A great deal of research has been completed in relation to the accuracy of the eyewitness testimony given by children. This research is based largely on the issue of children’s memory and suggestibility. Peterson and Biggs (2006) ran a study that involved a selection of 90 children, aged between 2 and 13 years old. The study concentrated on the complications that can occur with specific questions being asked of children when they are in the midst of trauma, and the effects that obscurity can have on the accuracy of the evidence. “Researchers have long noted the problems with children’s understanding of the task demands” (Pg. 287) and if interviewers are permitted to take advantage of a child’s vulnerability with suggestive and misleading questions, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to deem that the results gathered would lack consistency and accuracy. A problematic factor that is inherent in child interviews is the nature of specific questions that are asked of children as there is “serious ambiguity in terminology and methodology among researchers” (Pg. 280). The results of this study support the findings from an earlier study carried out by Goodman and Reed (1986). Their study consisted of 48 participants ranging between 3 and 40 years of age, with an equal number of females and males in each age group. The study focused on differing procedures involving line up’s, suggestive/objective questioning and free recall. The studies indicated that if “5-6 year old children are questioned in a non-suggestive manner and provided with a non-suggestive lineup, their eyewitness accuracy can equal or even exceed adults” (Pg. 328). As mentioned above, these results provide clear evidence that with the correct guides and practices in place, the testimony given by an eyewitness can be beneficial to the criminal justice system. The study makes note of various jurisdictions that have put in place procedures to deal with concerns of accuracy of evidence provided by child witnesses. These reforms have seen courts and legislatures passing specific laws governing the testimony given by children. In these 2|Page
jurisdictions, the laws now involve competence examinations to be undertaken by children in order for the court to determine the child’s “intelligence, memory, ability to distinguish truth from lies and understanding of the necessity to speak the truth” (Pg. 318). Therefore, it could be said, the child’s competence lies with the judge’s decision and the questioning process undertaken by the authorities.
Saywitz and Camparo (1998) conducted a review of practice which focused on research into developmental stages of children and provided “suggestions from a developmental perspective, informed by both experience and research” (Pg. 825). The general guidelines that the study reviewed were; developmental sensitivity, developmental assessment, phrasing/content of questions, objectivity, reducing suggestibility, overcoming anxieties, flexibility and the interpretation of responses. The purpose of the study was to inform practitioners of how to access the...
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