Eyewitness testimony

Topics: Criminal justice, Crime, Psychology Pages: 9 (1999 words) Published: May 21, 2014

Psychological research shows that eyewitness testimony is not always accurate; therefore it should not be used in the criminal justice system. Discuss.

The criminal justice systems in Australia and throughout the world rely on evidence to prosecute persons suspected of a crime. Previously, criminal investigators relied upon eyewitness accounts for their investigations though psychological research shows that eyewitness testimony is not always accurate and should not be used in the criminal justice system as a sole piece of evidence (Sangero & Halpert, 2007). Numerous research papers and articles have cautioned the use of eyewitness testimony due to many cases solely basing their verdict from this evidence. In light of DNA evidence, many convicted of a criminal offence have been exonerated of their sentences. The use of identification tests found in numerous papers clarifies why witness testimony can be inaccurate and unreliable. Experiments made throughout the years testing eyewitness accounts delve into factors associating event characteristics, eyewitness characteristics and target characteristics and how they contribute to the retrieval of information from an eyewitness. These factors clarify as to why witness testimony should not be used solely as evidence in the criminal justice system but rather another constituent in identifying the person of interest in a criminal investigation. In 1992 a non for profit organisation was formed to help those convicted and sentenced to a crime they did not commit. The Innocence Project was formed by Barry C. Scheck and Peter J. Neufeld in affiliation with Cardozo school of law at Yeshiva University to help exonerate those found guilty via DNA testing (Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University, 1997). According to The Innocence Project, 75% of eyewitness testimony which were used to convict suspected criminals in the United States of America was erroneous in light of DNA testing. In one such case in New Zealand, a man named David Dougherty was found guilty of rape and abduction of a little girl who pleaded against him in the court of law as being the man that raped her (Cleave & Gower, 2012). Mr Dougherty was acquitted of the 1992 rape in 1997 due to the fact that experts finally concluded that there was insufficient DNA evidence to prove beyond a doubt that he was the perpetrator (Fairfax NZ News, 2009). Although DNA evidence exonerated Mr Dougherty of the crime, many believed he was the perpetrator due to the eyewitness testimony, and expert opinions were clouded due to the publicity of this case. It was only until an overseas expert testified in favour of Mr Dougherty that he was acquitted (Fairfax NZ News, 2009). This case shows the errors made by the victim/eyewitness and how certain she was of the suspect and The Innocence Project has proven that eyewitness testimony is often mistaken. It has been widely documented throughout the decades that mistaken identifications were involved in the majority of cases examined by psychological researchers (Penrod, 2005). Research has suggested that during a police investigation, eyewitnesses would sometimes be subject to view more than one line-up to help identify a suspect (Palmer, Brewer, & Weber, 2010). Early research has cited that more viewings of potential suspects should theoretically improve the accuracy of the eyewitness choosing the offender (Penrod, 2005). Most recent research has found that multiple line-ups can impair subsequent identification accuracy therefore concluding that the more line-ups an eyewitness goes through, the more room for error in choosing the subject in question (Palmer, Brewer, & Weber, 2010). This study focused on post-identification feedback and separated their study into two main areas: confirming feedback and disconfirming feedback to see whether these would affect how the eyewitness will proceed with subsequent line-ups. According to Palmer, Brewer and...

References: Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University. (1997). The Innocence Project. Retrieved July 14, 2012, from http://www.innocenceproject.org/about/
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Fairfax NZ News. (2009, March 07). Falsely imprisoned: David Dougherty 's story. Retrieved July 14, 2012, from http://www.stuff.co.nz/sunday-star-times/features/1387410/Falsely-imprisoned-David-Doughertys-story
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