eyewitness identification and testimony

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You will write two (2) topic research papers You will be given some flexibility to write a research paper focused on the topic indicated for the week the Topic Research Paper is due. The research paper shall be a minimum of 8 pages and must follow current APA guidelines. The page count does not include the title page, abstract, or reference section. It must include 10–15 sources with at least 1 source being the Holy Bible and no more than two (2) books.  The student should have a specific section in the paper dedicated to a synthesis of Christian Worldview and their topic. See the assignment instructions and grading rubric for additional instructions and guidance.

 You will develop a well-reasoned discussion of the issues associated with that topic and your suggestions and recommendations for appropriate interventions, policy changes, etc. as well as biblical support for your suggestions and recommendations. Include an introduction that describes the purpose of the paper, the context of the discussion, and the central issues; also, address the central issues and use headings to clearly delineate your points. Your paper needs to include the integration of sources to support your points and demonstrate your thinking through the complexities of the issues in discussion of the central issues and your recommendations. Your paper should have a substantive conclusion that summarizes your key points.

Eyewitness Identification and Testimony

Chapter 7

In This Chapter

Eyewitness Testimony and the Legal System

The Construction and Reconstruction of Eyewitness Memories

Using Research Findings to Improve Eyewitness Accuracy

Techniques for Refreshing the Memories of Witnesses

Eyewitness Identification

Eyewitnesses rely on memory.

Encoding (gathering)

Storage (holding)

Retrieval (accessing)

Errors can occur at each stage.

Imperfect incoding

Memory trace deterioration

Retrieval distortion


Eyewitness Testimony and the Legal System

Involves most compelling evidence in court

Is most persuasive to a jury

Leads to more wrongful convictions than any other evidence

Four Major Causes of
Wrongful Convictions

Figure 7.1

The incidence of other causes—especially law-enforcement misconduct,

prosecutorial misconduct, and bad defense lawyering—are difficult

to calculate. Percentages add up to more than 100% because many

cases involve more than one cause. (Data source: www.innocence



Eyewitness Testimony and the Legal System

Manson Criteria is used to evaluate testimony accuracy.

Influenced by two key cases

Neil v. Biggers (1972)

Manson v. Braithwaite (1977)

Eyewitness Testimony and the Legal System

Factors in Mason Criteria


Accuracy of description

Level of attention

Degree of certainty

Time lap between crime and identification

Eyewitness Testimony and the Legal System

Difficulty in applying Manson Criteria with certainty

Evaluation of witness attention and view time of perpetrator limited

Witness overestimation of view time

Effects of time between witnessing crime and criminal identification

Biased questioning and lineup procedures

Undue juror faith in reliability of eyewitness testimony

Eyewitness Testimony and the Legal System

Legal system attempts to expose eyewitness bias

Determining witness ability to observe

Voir dire


Jury deliberation


Post-Manson court decisions on eyewitness identification

Perry v. New Hampshire (2012) (U.S. Supreme Court)

Issue of eyewitness evidence revisited but Manson criteria not updated

Fallibility of eyewitness identifications noted

State v. Henderson (2011) (NJ Supreme Court)

Manson rule does not provide sufficient reliability measure, does not deter, and overstates jury’s ability to evaluate eyewitness testimony

State v. Lawson (2012) (OR Supreme Court)

Prosecution must prove identification was based on permissible basis; role for eyewitness testimony established

Construction and Reconstruction of Eyewitness Memory

Cross-racial identification

Cross-race effect (own-race bias) present from infancy to adulthood; not large bias effect, but consequential for legal system

Stress and weapons focus

Stress effects encoding

Weapons focus effect (witness focus on weapon, not assailant)

Cross-racial identification

Improves with contact with members of other groups


Figure 7.3


Construction and Reconstruction of Eyewitness Memory

Unconscious transference

Face seen in one context transferred to another

Suggestive or leading comments

Eyewitness recall shaped by wording of questions

Inhibition of details through retrieval inhibition

Preexisting expectations

Interaction of beliefs about sequence of actions in a case (scripts) with prior knowledge

Witness Confidence

Confident eyewitness

Persuades jurors/judge


Highly correlated with persuasiveness

Weakly correlated with accuracy as witness investment in identification correctness increases over time

Confidence manipulation

Postidentification feedback effect strengthened through cognitive dissonance

Witness Confidence

Child eyewitnesses

Are about as accurate as adults in culprit-present or culprit-absent lineup

Are less accurate than adults in culprit-absent or target-absent lineup

Provide less information

Are more suggestible

Research to Improve Eyewitness Testimony

Estimator variables

Factors outside legal system control

System variables

Factors under legal system control

American Psychology-Law Society (APLS) rules used to create police and investigator guidelines

Administration of lineups or photo spreads

Witnesslineup viewing instructions

Composition of lineup

Eyewitness confidence information

Research to Improve Eyewitness Testimony

Guidelines influenced by more recent research

Blind lineup administrators

Bias-reducing eyewitness instructions

Unbiased lineup

Confidence ratings

Video recording

Sequential lineups

Expert testimony

Research to Improve Eyewitness Testimony

Blind lineup: Reduces unintentional communication; blind lineup administrator

Bias-reducing instructions: Forces witnesses to rely on own memory

Unbiased lineup: Requires actual suspect should not stand out from “fillers”

Confidence ratings: Requires confidence statement at time of identification

Research to Improve Eyewitness Testimony

Video recording: Records identification procedures

Sequential lineups: View one person or photograph at a time; reduce relative judgment

Expert testimony: Provides psychologist summary on research related to eyewitness testimony


Translating science into practice


Identification of threshold for policy recommendation

Resistance to reform among responsible reformers

Contingent nature of some research findings

So…does the science of eyewitness evidence substantially transform procedures for information gathering from eyewitness to crime?

What do you think?

Refreshing Memories of Eyewitnesses


Involves relaxed state, more receptive to suggestion

May facilitate hypnotic hypernesia

Does not increase accuracy; courts skeptical

Cognitive Interview

Involves procedure to relax witness

Reinstates context surrounding crime

Is difficult for police to adopt this method


Eyewitness Identification and Testimony


In the courtroom, eyewitness identification is one of the most damning types of evidence. When an eyewitness identifies a perpetrator of a crime, jurors often stop hearing other evidence. This is especially true when the witness is an innocent bystander to a crime. After all, a jury member might think, What does the witness have to gain by misidentifying a perpetrator of a crime? However, a great deal of research has demonstrated the fallibility of eyewitness identification. An eyewitness’s ability to correctly identify a criminal depends mainly on his or her memory. The memory process has been broken down into three stages, and errors can occur at any one of them. In the first stage, the crime must be encoded. In the second stage, it has to be stored. In the third stage, it has to be retrieved. According to one study, in 74% of convictions, eyewitness testimony was the only evidence, and in nearly half of those cases there was only a single eyewitness. Erroneous eyewitness identifications are responsible for more wrongful convictions than is any other type of evidence. The Manson criteria specify five variables that should be considered when evaluating an individual’s eyewitness identification; (a) opportunity to view the criminal, (b) level of attention, (c) accuracy of a previous description, (d) degree of certainty, and (e) amount of time between the crime and identification. Most of these variables are difficult to estimate, and eyewitness certainty is unrelated to accuracy. Although the criminal justice system attempts to discover mistaken identifications through voir dire, cross-examination, and jury deliberation, these are not particularly effective in this regard.

The phenomenon of witnesses being more accurate in identifying people of their own race than people of other races is called the cross-race effect (or own-race bias). Research has shown that even people who are relatively low in prejudice still have trouble identifying persons of other races. The rate of false alarms (misidentifications) is much larger when the identification is made cross-racially, but the cross-rate effect appears to lessen with increased contact with other races. Contrary to popular belief, memory for stressful events is not enhanced. Memory for arousing events may seem vivid, but the details of such events are not remembered any better than are details of everyday events. But witnesses have been shown to have higher correct identifications in conditions of low stress than in conditions of high stress (71% vs. 38%).

Witnesses also show higher false positives in high-stress conditions than in low-stress conditions (58% vs. 25%), with this pattern holding, regardless of the type of identification procedure (live lineup, photo spread, or sequential photo). One explanation of this finding is that in highly stressful situations, especially those involving weapons, observers focus on the weapon rather than on the perpetrator. Witnesses are also likely to identify someone near the scene of the crime as the person who committed it, or tend to make an identification during the identification procedure (e.g., when viewing mug shots) through a process called unconscious transference. Suggestive comments and presumptive questions can also lead to mistaken recall. Sometimes, witnesses fill in missing pieces of information on the basis of their own scripts or their knowledge of how things usually happen (e.g., in a robbery there’s usually a gun). Although jurors often think a witness’s confidence is a good indicator of accuracy, data suggest otherwise. There are variables that are not controllable (estimator variables) such as time of day or race of perpetrator and variables that are controllable (system variables).

Scientific research has offered methods to reduce the system variables and improve eyewitness accuracy. Methods include using blind lineup administrators, providing unbiased instructions during a lineup, ensuring that lineups are less biased, asking witnesses to rate their confidence prior to viewing the lineup, allowing for video recording of identifications, using sequential rather than six-pack lineups, and allowing expert testimony to address the issue of eyewitness accuracy. Methods such as hypnosis have been shown to be ineffective at improving eyewitness memory, whereas the cognitive interview increases the number of relevant details recalled without increasing the amount of incorrect information. In the cognitive interview, the interviewer first develops a rapport with the witness and then suggests to him or her a number of memory retrieval techniques.


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