The accuracy of eyewitness testimony ..

How to Analyze the Accuracy of Eyewitness Testimony in a Criminal Case, 42 CONN

Outline and evaluate the accuracy of eyewitness testimony

As we prepared for work on that case, we wrote an article for on . The voluminous research on that topic was very disturbing. It was even more disturbing to watch as almost every trend documented in the literature occurred along the way in our wrongful convictions case. So, for me, the idea that there is an inexpensive and effective way to teach jurors (and those who come before) how to assess the accuracy of specific eyewitness testimony is a tantalizing one.

Wise, R. A., Fishman, C. & Safer, M. A. (2009). How to analyze the accuracy of eyewitness testimony in a criminal case.

Discuss factors affecting the accuracy of eyewitness testimony.

To address these problems, Professor Wise developed the interview-identification-eyewitness factor (I-I-Eye) method for analyzing eyewitness accuracy (Wise, Fishman, & Safer, 2009). The I-I-Eye method consists of four steps. First, you assess whether the eyewitness interviews were properly conducted by determining if law enforcement (a) obtained the maximum amount of accurate information from the eyewitness; (b) contaminated the eyewitness’s memory with post-event information; or (c) artificially increased the eyewitness’s confidence. Second, you determine if the identification procedures were properly conducted. The I-I-Eye method provides scientific guidelines, for assessing whether the eyewitness interviews and identification procedures were properly conducted. If there was substantial bias in how the eyewitness interviews and identification procedures were conducted, you should assume that the eyewitness testimony is inaccurate unless an exception applies. The exceptions include if the eyewitness conditions at the crime scene were unusually good or if there is substantial corroborating evidence of the accuracy of the eyewitness testimony.

Wise, R. A., & Safer, M. A. (2012). A method for analyzing the accuracy of eyewitness testimony in criminal cases.  22-34.

is a superb, easy-to-read entry to the eyewitness area. Despite its age, it remains one of the most cited works in the field and captures many of the core ideas that still hold prominence, especially the idea of post-event memory malleability. Another core idea that was developed around the same time involved distinguishing between system variables and estimator variables. articulates the view that a premium should be placed on the study of system variables, which can be used to improve the accuracy of eyewitness testimony, rather than estimator variables, which can be used only to estimate the chances of inaccurate testimony. Another central distinction in the eyewitness area is between event memory and person memory. Event memory focuses on recall of details and interviewing techniques (e.g., suggestive questioning). Person memory focuses primarily on the identification of perpetrators from lineups and show-ups as well as facial composites created by witnesses. The first handbook in the eyewitness area is a two-volume set in which the first volume is devoted to event memory () and the second volume is devoted to person memory (). These two volumes have chapters contributed by the top eyewitness experts and represent the most comprehensive sourcebook to date on eyewitness issues. At a more general level, is a very important article because it shows that there is no scientific basis to presume that long-term memories, once stored, are permanent. It was particularly influential because it called into question the wisdom of using heavy techniques to get at “hidden” memories, which might not actually exist. As a consequence, such techniques could lead to the creation of false memories. is a fairly thorough treatment of the person memory and event memory literatures from a system-variable (what can be done to make reports more accurate) perspective.

When judges and juries lack awareness of the factors that can affect the accuracy of eyewitness testimony, they can make mistakes.


Eyewitnesses are an integral part of the judicial system and many jurors make decisions largely from what eyewitnesses have said (Laub & Bornstein, 2008). Unfortunately, eyewitness testimonies can be inaccurate. Since 1989, there have been 311 cases where prisoners have been exonerated from crimes because DNA evidence revealed that they were innocent. In 75% of these cases, individuals were sentenced falsely because of inaccurate eyewitness identification testimonies (Innocence Project, 2013). There are many factors that influence the accuracy of eyewitness testimony, and the emotional state of eyewitnesses at the time of the crime is one of the main factors (Wells, Memon & Penrod, 2006). This blog will look at the role of emotional arousal on eyewitness testimony and its effect on the reliability of eyewitness statements.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.Although emotional arousal at the time of an event is important in eyewitness accounts, the way in which eyewitnesses are asked to recall an event which is equally important. For example, Debra and White (1991) found that eyewitnesses became more certain of their answers to yes-no questions about a novel event when repeatedly asked the same question. When asked open ended questions, repetition influenced presentation style rather than the accuracy of the answer. However, this study was conducted in 1991 and since then, a cognitive interview technique has been developed to improve retrieval and reduce the inaccuracy of eyewitness testimonies (Fisher and Goldman, 1992). This method of interview which is used by the police when conducting interviews, encourages eyewitnesses to mentally reinstate the personal and environmental context of an event, report it from a different viewpoint, report the sequence of events in different orders and report every aspect in great detail. The cognitive interview causes eyewitnesses to produce a significantly more accurate account of an event (Holliday and Albon, 2004). It is important to take into account how eyewitnesses are asked to recall an event as well as emotional arousal at the time of an event in order to reduce inaccuracy in eyewitness accounts. "Eyewitness testimony differs from many other aspects of memory in that accuracy is of much greater importance" Consider what psychological research has told us about the accuracy of eyewitness testimony. Eyewitness testimony is defined as, "an area of research that investigates the accuracy of memory following an accident, crime, or other significant event, and the types of errors that are commonly made in such situations." Much emphasis is placed on the accuracy of eyewitness testimony as often-inaccurate eyewitness testimony can have serious consequences leading to wrong convictions. Eyewitness testimony is a powerful tool within any field, particularly that of justice, as it is a readily accepted form of evidence that allows for convictions. However, Tests conducted by Loftus have shown an enormous swing from a non-guilty verdict, to guilty within the same case, simply through the introduction of an eyewitness. This alone displays the importance of eyewitness testimony, and accentuates the theory that jurors tend to over believe, or at least rely heavily on such accounts. In this essay I shall discuss the work and research contributed by Bartlett, and Loftus as to whether accuracy plays a vital role in eyewitness testimony compared to other aspects of memory use. Retrieval failure is an everyday experience for many of us. We also often experience problems with storing new information. This usually occurs because simply the person concerned is not paying attention.