Key Issue - Is Eye Witness Testimony Reliable?

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  • Key Issue - Is Eyewitness Testimony Reliable?
    • Eyewitness - someone who witnessed an event and is later asked to recount the event from memory
      • The account is used in a criminal justice setting and is often the corner-stone of the prosecution case
    • Research has found that juries pay particular attention to eye witness testimony in reaching a verdict
      • Juries are more likely to rely on EWT than scientific proof or forensic evidence
    • EWT refers to an account given by people of an event they have witnessed
      • One may be required  to give a description of a robbery or a road accident someone has seen
      • Can include the identification of the perpetrators, details of the crime scene, etc
        • Cue dependent memory can be used to help increase the amount of accurate information recalled by an eyewitness.
          • Police reconstruct: reactivates context cues to help trigger recall, so more can be recalled - making the 'original memory' accessible
          • State cues: witnesses to crime may be stressed or anxious so  should be interviewed immediately to maintain the inner state
    • Elizabeth Loftus argued that EWT should be treated with caution and demonstrated through numerous studies that memory could easily be distorted by leading questions
    • Devlin Committee was set up to investigate the use of EWT in court
      • Found that many people had been convicted of serious crimes through EWT alone
        • 82% suspects chosen from an identification parade were convicted and in  74% of cases people were judged guilty based only on EWT
    • On the basis of unreliable  EWT, innocent people have spent many years in jail
      • The real perpetrator is free to commit more crimes
    • The Devlin Report recommended that the trial judge be required to instruct the jury that it isn't safe to convict on single EWT alone
      • Except in exceptional circumstances or when there's substantial corroborative evidence
    • Field study by Yuille & Cutshall (1986): reports of the crime was extremely reliable with more witnesses giving accurate information
      • Leading questions had little effect
    • Loftus's theory: reconstructive hypothesis, explaining how memory can be distorted
      • Two kinds of information goes into a person's memory an event and get integrated so we can't tell which source the specific information is recalled from
        • 1) information obtained through perceiving an evemt
        • 2) information supplied to us after an event

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