What is the Efficacy of Eyewitness Testimonies?

Evaluating the Accuracy of Eyewitness

Eyewitness testimonies are not always accurate. The case of Jennifer Thompson’s identification of 22-year-old Ronald Cotton in 1984 shows that the criminal justice system cannot rely entirely on eyewitnesses because the evidence can be used to convict the wrong person. In this case, Thompson was convinced that Cotton had attacked and raped her. After 11 years, DNA evidence exonerated Cotton of the crime (Thompson-Cannino, 2009). The case reveals the unreliability of eyewitnesses since they can have confidence in false memories, leading to inaccurate testimony. Showing a photograph of a suspect to a witness increases the chances of false identification. In her case, Thompson was not initially persuaded that Cotton was the suspect, but with time and upon seeing his photograph, she became more confident about her testimony.

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Reasons for Continued Use of Eyewitness Testimony

Evidence from various cases shows that eyewitness testimonies are not always reliable. However, such evidence still plays a vital role in specific cases, particularly when a victim can identify the suspect. Furthermore, the testimony is useful in situations with corroborating evidence, ranging from weak to strong. The spectator testimony also depends on the level of confidence of the witness. Confidence, in psychological experiments, is believed to be a reliable indicator of accuracy in eyewitness testimonies.

Hence, courts and law enforcement can use such evidence after considering the level of confidence of a witness. In the case of Thompson, the witness was not assured in the beginning, although her confidence level grew with time. Confident witnesses are most likely to provide reliable evidence, especially in cases where corroborating proof is available. Hence, regardless of the possibility of inaccuracy, the evidence still plays a fundamental role in criminal justice.

The Reality of the Formation of False Memories

Psychologist Elizabeth Loftus has researched the malleability of human memory to reveal the existence of false memories. She argues that recovered memories can present false information; hence, a person is able to recall something that never existed or is different from reality. Loftus proves the existence of false memories, especially in traumatic events, such as childhood sexual abuse when a victim or witness represses the memory and recalls the events after several years. In such situations, it is possible for a person to recreate wrong information (Myers & Twenge, 2017). The phenomenon can occur because of the adverse effects of the event on the person, leading to the masking of reality as a coping mechanism. Hence, it becomes hard for the individual to recreate the reality of a situation as it happened, shaping false memories.

Recommendations to Reduce the Chances of a Faulty Eyewitness Testimony

Sometimes, eyewitnesses provide inaccurate testimony that leads to a conviction, especially when jurors and judges depend solely on such evidence. It is essential to avoid such situations by critically evaluating eyewitness testimony before making a judgment. The principal participants in the criminal justice procedure should have adequate knowledge of such factors as witness confidence, which plays a significant role in the evidence given. They should also perform eyewitness interviews and identification procedures to establish the reliability of the evidence provided. Besides, they should strive to find corroborating proof such as DNA evidence instead of depending on expert testimony only. Such evidence will either support or refute witness testimony to prevent erroneous judgment (Wise, Sartori, Magnussen, & Safer, 2014). Generally, eyewitness testimony should not be applied without implementing other safeguards such as extensive investigation and DNA tests to collect additional evidence.

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Myers, D.G. & Twenge, J.M. (2017). Social psychology (12th ed.). New York, NY: Graw-Hill.

Thompson-Cannino, J. (2009). Picking Cotton: A memoir of injustice and redemption book trailer. St. Martin’s Press. Wise, R. A., Sartori, G., Magnussen, S., & Safer, M. A. (2014). An examination of the causes and solutions to eyewitness error. Frontiers in Psychiatry5.

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