The reliability of eyewitness testimony

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The eyewitness’s evidence may have a strong effect on the jurors’ decisions on different cases dealt with in the courtroom. Therefore, the use of eyewitnesses includes stricter supervision and use of a scientific method to determine how eyewitnesses identify a perpetrator during classical politics or eyewitness interviews (Stein, 2003).
Issue statement
The primary cause of conviction is eyewitness mistake. A Wise & Safer study shows that misidentification of the eyewitnesses has contributed to the false convictions of innocent people. The judges, jurors and other legal professionals need to utilize their ability to assess the accuracy of eyewitness evidence. Notably, by acknowledging why eyewitness error occurs and the safeguards to prevent this error, it is requisite to understand the nature of the eyewitness memory (Wise & Safer, 2012). Although the eyewitness memory may be reasonably accurate, its functioning is not similar to a video camera. The study will, therefore, rely on memory which is an active, dynamic and ongoing process that entails perception, encoding, storage and retrieval. Blending these sources of information results in a coherent and seamless memory of the crime but may, however, contain inaccuracies.

Research questions

The research questions on this study are as follows.

Do the interviews or lineups obtain the maximum amount of information from the eyewitness?

Do the interviews and lineups contaminate the memory of the eyewitness of the crime?

Do the interviews and lineup contaminate the memory of the eyewitness on the perpetrator of the crime?

Hypothesis formulation

Eyewitness is an issue of great concern and has major implications on the justice system. “The eyewitness testimony faces unreliability in interviews and police lineups because of the effects of the eyewitness memory.”


Eyewitnesses are frequently inaccurate and the point of concern among lawyers and judges. The growing psychological research has presented various findings on the accuracy of memories over time and eyewitness confidence. The judges need to be able to assess eyewitness accuracy to better evaluate its probative value in criminal cases (Stein, 2003). The various actions that may be taken to determine the reliability of eyewitness testimony include an evaluation of the eyewitness interviews, the identification procedures and accuracy. Additionally, one can evaluate the eyewitness factors that increase or decrease eyewitness testimony and identification. These eyewitness factors affect eyewitness accuracy and comprise of factors pertaining to interviews, the crime scene and identification procedures (Wise & Safer, 2012). A scientific analysis of these eyewitness factors provides the concrete guidelines of evaluating them and specific assessment standards to determine if they are likely to cause eyewitness error. For instance, determining if the memory of an eyewitness has been contaminated during interviews is critical because of the malleable nature of eyewitness memory. The alteration of memory by post-event information leads to the loss of the original memory of the crime. The evaluation of the success of the trier of fact and eyewitness accuracy can also be based on the confidence of the eyewitness. Therefore, there is the need to assess if this confidence gets artificially augmented prior to obtaining information from the eyewitness.

The expected positive outcomes of taking action in determining eyewitness accuracy include the ability to establish substantial bias presented by the eyewitness memory. Moreover, the jurors will be presented with the opportunity to decide if they can admit eyewitness expert testimony. Nevertheless, these actions may result in negative outcomes such as a biased identification which occurs following the alteration of the eyewitness memory. The error caused by a biased identification procedure or interview cannot be rectified through a conduction of an unbiased and fair interview (Wise & Safer, 2012). In this case, the identification of the eyewitness factors contributing to this effect should be determined and the judges should choose whether to grant a motion to suppress.

The steps to determining the reliability and accuracy of eyewitness testimony are as follows. Firstly, during the interviews, one will need to determine if the law enforcement obtained maximum amount of information from the eyewitness (Wise & Safer, 2012). Secondly, one will need to establish if the enforcement contaminated the memory of the eyewitness about the crime with post-event information and finally if it increased eyewitness confidence.

To conclude, the greatest justice miscarriage that a legal system can make is the conviction of an innocent person of a crime. Wrongful convictions can undermine the faith of the public on the criminal justice system. The use and application of a scientific method in analyzing the accuracy of the testimony of eyewitness can aid judges to substantially reduce the number of convictions from the eyewitness error (Stein, 2003). Given the present scientific research, eyewitness testimony is systematically unreliable and biased. Therefore, the goal of obtaining justice and truth can be achieved through placing the eyewitness testimony in an appropriate perspective.


Stein, E. (2003). The Admissibility of Expert Testimony About Cognitive Science Research on Eyewitness Identification. Law, Probability and Risk, 2: 295-303.

Wise, R. A. & Safer, M. A. (2012). A Method for Analyzing the Accuracy of Eyewitness Testimony in Criminal Cases. Court Review: The Journal of the American Judges Association. Paper 387.

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