Eyewitness Identification and Testimony


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