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How reliable is EWT? 
Eyewitness testimony is a key aspect of the identification and correct punishment given
to criminals police and courts use eye witness testimony to help with prosecution and
juries find it a very reliable source of information about crimes. It is an account given by
an eyewitness to a crime e.g. a customer giving their account of a robbery of a shop
including details of the scene and identification/description of criminals. However there
are many flaws with eye witness testimony, such as leading questions being asked e.g.
"how violent was the criminal" assuming the criminal was acting violent. More
weaknesses of eye witness testimony include anxiety of the witnesses i.e. they might be
found out and at risk or suffering posttraumatic stress disorder and weapon focus
effect e.g. if there is a weapon i.e. a gun involved in the crime, then the witnesses may
focus on that instead of the perpetrator's face and therefore will not be able to
successfully identify the criminal.
One case where eye witness testimony was questioned as to whether it was reliable
was the shooting of Jean Charles De Menezes a Brazilian man wrongly accused of
being a terror threat and shot dead by police at Stockwell Underground station on22
July 2005 after he jumped the barriers and ran off, raising suspicion of another terrorist
act after the tragic acts on 7th July 2005. According to CCTV and documents, De
Menezes was wearing a light coloured denim shirt/jacket and only ran when he saw his
train approaching. However, this was not what eye witnesses quickly claimed
according to eye witnesses, De Menezes was wearing a dark, bulky jacket that could
easily conceal a device and was running away from police at Stockwell police and
researchers couldn't understand how witnesses could've got it so wrong.
One case was in North Carolina on 8th July 1984. A student had gone to bed early and a
man had shattered the light to the back door and broke in. She screamed and felt a
blade to a throat the criminal told her to "shut up" or he'd kill her. He didn't want money
he was going to rape her. She studied his face so she could easily identify him should
she survive. He fled and raped a second woman. With police, she started to create an
face using samples and eventually, came with a face which was published. Eventually, 6
suspect photos were given to the student, Jennifer, who spent a long time studying
each. She falsely identified a man who was put in a physical line up she identified the
same man she identified in the photo line up: Ronald Cotton. The jury in a weeklong
trial heard about Cotton's faulty alibi, his clothing matched the description in Jennifer's
statement and there was a piece of foam that could've matched his shoe on her floor.
However, it was Jennifer's eye witness statement in front of the jury that decided their
choice: guilty. He was sentenced to prison. A new inmate Bobby Poole was often
mistaken for Cotton and vice versa. Cotton had asked Poole if he had committed the
crime Cotton was falsely imprisoned for even though he didn't admit it to Cotton, Poole
was heard admitting it to another inmate. After many appeals, Cotton requested his
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DNA it proved his innocence and also proved that eye witness
testimony cannot be relied upon alone.
In both cases, eyewitnesses got the identification of the criminal very wrong which
questions the reliability of eye witnesses. This could mean that eye witness statements
lack reliability as they can be subjective and based upon the witness's stereotypes i.e.
De Menezes was wearing a "bulky jacket" their stereotype of a terror suspect.…read more