Eyewitness Testimony: Oldest Form of Evidence

Pages: 19 (6758 words) Published: December 5, 2014
Eyewitness Testimony
Eyewitness testimony (ET) may be considered the oldest form of evidence and is often considered the most credible form within a courtroom after a confession from the defendant (Roberts, 2014). ET is a critical component for solving crimes and often it may be the only useable evidence available for identifying the suspected perpetrator (Wells & Olson, 2003). However, despite this, recently the trustworthiness of ET has come under some scrutiny as a result of the work carried out by organizations like The Innocence Project, which aims to exonerate individuals who have been wrongfully convicted of a crime (Roberts, 2014). Wonsowicz (2012) suggested that the credibility of ET may be deemed unreliable since it depends on individual’s senses and the ability of their brain to process and remember the perceptions that arise from their senses (as cited in Roberts, 2014) while Loftus (1981, p.108) suggested that it is impaired as a result of the memory processes that occur whenever individuals “acquire, retain and attempt to retrieve information.” Vollen (2005) concluded that in the United States, the judicial system convicts the correct suspect 99.5% of the time but even when the margin of error for wrongful convictions is 0.5% this equates to approximately 11,000 innocent individuals being incarcerated (as cited in Roberts, 2014). Roberts (2014) provided an example of a wrongful conviction concerning a man named John Stoll. Stoll was 41 years of age living with his young son in California who was arrested and charged for molesting his son and subsequently a number of other children (21 in total) in 1984 (Roberts, 2014). The prosecutions entire case rested on the young children’s testimony (Roberts, 2014). Stoll was found guilty of 17 out of the 21 counts in 1984 and sentenced to 40 years in prison (Roberts, 2014). After serving 18 years, the North California Innocence Project, believing Stoll was innocent, made contact with Stoll to help him prove his innocence (Roberts, 2014). Many of the original witnesses recanted their previous testimony citing that they had been forced to lie (Roberts, 2014). As a result Stoll’s conviction was overturned in 2004 and he earned his freedom having spent 19 years in prison, for crimes that neither he committed nor ever took place (Roberts, 2014). The above example demonstrates a grievous miscarriage of justice, yet Loftus (1981) pointed out that ET can have a major influence over the decisions made by a jury because oftentimes it appears very convincing. This essay will examine the following eyewitness behaviours and how they impact on the accuracy of reports provided: (a) eyewitness identification (b) confirmation bias (c) how eyewitnesses behave when they have been misinformed before or after the fact and (d) how witnessing a violent scene impacts on eyewitness behaviour. The essay will also aim to provide some recommendations for ameliorating eyewitness error. Eyewitness Identification

In France’s (1909) Penguin Island, he discusses the dragon of Alca in one of the chapters (as cited in Siegel & Loftus, 1978). The chapter describes a terrifying dragon who is wreaking havoc in Alca and attacking its inhabitants, the Penguin people (as cited in Siegel & Loftus, 1978). On one occasion the elders gather together to question the villagers about the dragon (as cited in Siegel & Loftus, 1978). One villager said, “He has the claws of a lion, the wings of an eagle, and the tail of a serpent” while another claimed that “He has the head of a dragon, the claws of a lion, and the tail of a fish” (as cited in Siegel & Loftus, 1978). Another villager said that he was blue, another said he was green while another said “He has no colour” (as cited in Siegel & Loftus, 1978). The story is clearly fictional but it does highlight an important issue, that is, when individuals observe a complex event, how they recollect that event will be different and no two individuals will give the same...

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