This seems logical, but murder cases have been decided in part based on the testimony of eyewitnesses who were more than 450 feet away from the perpetrator. Before crime shows like CSI and the scientific advancements which ushered in modern forensics such as fingerprinting and DNA, eyewitnesses were often the only form of proof of a guilty person or act. It is used to establish facts in a criminal investigation or prosecution. Stream CBSN live or on demand for FREE on your TV, computer, tablet, or smartphone. These courts generally accept detailed descriptions of relevant scientific research findings to either attack or support eyewitness testimony.19 Other courts, meanwhile, leave the jury to determine the credibility of eyewitness testimony and insist that findings from scientific research in this area cannot help the jury to do so.20
Another eyewitness claims, "I heard the shot! 3 Eyewitness Misidentification. 2
(1986, p. 524) estimated that 60% of 500 cases they had documented to be pure wrong ful convictions (i.e., felony convictions later set aside be cause of a confession, new evidence, etc.) The own-race bias applies nonetheless because of average differences in facial appearance between the two groups.) The more violent the crime she says, the less reliable the eyewitness. Officers of the law should be instructed by their superiors about the potential inaccuracies and dangers of witness testimony. Aside from eyesight, researchers have found that stress can also affect an eyewitness account, as well … 10 Manson v. Brathwaite, 432 U.S. 98, 114 (1977).
The testimony of an eyewitness could make up for many shortcomings in a case, such as the lack of any actual physical evidence. Other tips were ignored. Standardized instructions regarding best practices should be given, including such tips as the importance of minimizing contact between witnesses at the scene, and how gathering eyewitness testimony as early as possible tends to increase its accuracy. The Innocence Project found that out of 138 cases, two-thirds of the DNA exonerated cases were due to an eyewitness testimony (Howitt, 2012). In the end it may play a vital role in the serial sniper case. Noting a victims initial confidence level at the initial identification can be important, so as to track if the witness grows more or less confident with the identification over the course of the trial, which might be an indicator of eyewitness unreliability. Often, it can be the strongest evidence in a criminal case even though it can also be the most unreliable. Despite the frequency of use, we have been confronted as a country with many incredible failures of eyewitness testimony such as misidentifications that led to convictions and sentences of people who were later discovered innocent.1 Science has played no small role: post-conviction DNA profiling made possible by the development of the polymerase chain reaction, which enables amplification of crime-scene DNA to quantities sufficient for forensic analysis have meant that DNA identification is becoming increasingly used even in cases where it was previously not viable: those where we have smaller samples.2 As of now, almost 350 people, many serving long prison sentences, have been exonerated because their own DNA was discovered to be incompatible with evidence long ago collected from the crime scene. • Inaccurate eyewitness identifications can confound investigations from the earliest stages. Compiled by Ann Njarara, Bree Peilen, Daniel Neuman, Emory Cook, Linda Lin, and Perrin Lowrey, Introduction
CBS News Correspondent Byron Pitts asks, why are so called "eyewitnesses" so unreliable? With the serial sniper investigation, the burning question has become -- how is it possible? legally important event) and later gets up on the stand and recalls for the court all the details of the witnessed event In assessing the reliability of eyewitness identification, federal and state courts are still divided on (1) whether expert testimony on eyewitness identification should be allowed under either Daubert or Frye and (2) the proper exercise of trial court discretion when deciding whether to admit such expert testimony.18
In Perry v. New Hampshire, the Supreme Court barred the defendant from challenging the eyewitness testimony proffered by the state, even though the circumstances surrounding the eyewitnesss identification of the defendant were decidedly suggestive. Loftus has studied the mind of "the eyewitness" for 25 years. They found that when showing violent and non-violent crimes on videotape to subjects and then prompting them with questions later, the witnesses had more and more difficulty remembering certain details as the violence in the video went up.8. And how is it possible so many say they heard something? Other major dangers that have plagued eyewitness reports are factors such as high-stress situations, how witnesses are interviewed by police, and whether the victim is the same or different race as the witness.6 In 2001, Meissner and Brigham performed a broad review of research on cross-race identification, analyzing data from 39 research articles and 5,000 subjects/witnesses. Judges should continue to allow expert testimony from social scientists on the general reliability of eyewitness testimony, so that jurors are informed about the strengths and weaknesses of eyewitness testimony as a practice. Another one involved a man named Brandon Garrett from the University of Virginia School of Law who ended up analyzing 161 cases of eyewitness misidentification that ended up getting … This section will focus on the courts current treatment of eyewitness testimony. Most witnesses didnt come forward of their own accord, and often enough it was the lead investigator for the district attorneys office, John Johnson, who found the witnesses, and brought them in to testify. 1 Garrett B. Convicting the Innocent: Where Criminal Prosecutions Go Wrong. One single shot!". It's a stressful situation in which tellers are trained to pay attention and remember details. Here is a link to a general overview on eyewitness testimony from the National Science Foundation. The NRC found that police officers and detectives are frequently uninformed of what the best practices concerning gathering eyewitness testimony are. 15 Perry v. New Hampshire, 565 U.S. 228, 248 (2012). The FBI estimates that 521,196 of these arrests were for violent crimes.24 Accurate data on the number of crimes observed by eyewitnesses are not available. One estimate based on a 1989 survey of prosecutors suggests that at least 80,000 eyewitnesses make identifications of suspects in criminal investigations each year.25
Retrieved March, 2019. And how is it possible that all of it adds up to so little -- not even a composite of the killer, just his suspected 'get away' vehicle. Robert Siegel talks to Elizabeth Loftus, law professor at the University of California, Irvine about how jurors can better evaluate the credibility of "eyewitness testimony" in criminal trials. "Double-Blind" Process for Lineups and Photo Arrays. at 114. Perry v. New Hampshire, a case which raised similar issues, was decided January 11, 2012 by the U.S. Supreme Court. Judges should include within jury instructions clear and concise instructions on how to evaluate and make use of eyewitness testimony during their deliberations. 14 Manson, 432 U.S. 98, 12526 (Marshall, J., dissenting). In a bank robbery training tape, the bank robber also commits murder. Sixty eyewitnesses were interviewed, and two eyewitnesses who had actually seen the airplane just before the impact testified at a hearing to investigate the accident. Of the 190 DNA exonerees who had been convicted based on eyewitness testimony, nearly all the cases had eyewitnesses who were positive … For years the banking industry, even the CIA, have spent millions trying to build a better 'eyewitness', better observers. were caused by EW misidentifications. To ensure the information witnesses provide is accurate, the people working on a criminal case must carefully examine how witnesses were questioned, as well as the language that law … The subjects who had been asked the leading question were much more likely to choose the slideshow with the yield sign, since their memories had been tampered by the question asked earlier.4 Many studies have since corroborated the findings of Loftus, such as another experiment, where the same effect was reproduced using television screens, and then seeing the effects between the different participants.5 Studies like these have demonstrated the fickle nature of memory, and how details can be changed without the witness really even recognizing it. Police officers, as well as the general public, focused almost exclusively on white vans because they believed the eyewitnesses. 31 Elizabeth Loftus, Eyewitness Science and the Legal System, 14 Annual Review of Law and Social Science 110 (2018). More and more research has come out in the last few decades indicating that there are many dangers to relying on eyewitnesses, from the uncertainty of relying on a persons memory all the way to how they are questioned at the police station. Judges should strive to make sure the jury is informed of all of the identifications an eyewitness has made prior to the trial. The prosecutor, Doug Evans, tried Curtis Flowers, a former employee at Tardy, six times for the crime.29 The Flowers case relied on three key points of evidence: (1) the eyewitness testimony of people who placed Curtis Flowers on the route from his home, to steal a gun, back to his home and then to Tardy to commit the murders and then home again (2) ballistics and (3) jailhouse confessions.30
In addition, a survey of the fre Jennifer Thompson, then a 22-year-old college student, had gone to bed early in her off-campus apartment. As of 2014, 44 states and all federal circuits, with the possible exception of the 11th Circuit, allow such expert testimony at the discretion of the trial judge.21, Eyewitness Testimony: Application in Court, The Manson v. Brathwaite test under the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution for assessing eyewitness identification evidence was established in 1977, before much applied research on eyewitness identification had been conducted. Eyewitness Testimony: Recommended Practices, Eyewitness testimony continues to be commonplace in law enforcement and trials. Under the right circumstances, eyewitness testimony can be reliable. In the United States, more than 300 exonerations have resulted from postconviction DNA testing since 1989.26 According to the Innocence Project, at least one mistaken eyewitness identification was present in almost three-quarters of DNA exonerations.27 In many of these cases, eyewitness identification played a significant evidentiary role, and almost without exception, the eyewitnesses who testified expressed complete confidence that they had chosen the perpetrator. the time between the crime and the identification procedure. "What the violence does is, it disrupts the processing that's necessary for full consolidation of this information into our long-term memory," says Loftus. 13 See Timothy P. OToole & Giovanna Shay, Manson v. Brathwaite Revisited: Towards a New Rule of Decision for Due Process Challenges to Eyewitness Identification Procedures, 41 Val. One of the eyewitnesses in the Courtney case, Angel Rivera, was Latino and the six lineup participants were non-Latino Caucasian. When the suspects were finally caught, they were driving a blue sedan. “Some [eyewitnesses] were running for cover, some were relating what they heard from others or, as I said, what they assumed happened in the case,” he said. 6 Wells, Memon, Penrod, Eyewitness Evidence: Improving Its Probative Value, Psychological Science in the Public Interest, (2006). Eyewitness testimony can hold a lot of weight with jurors. Some courts have held it as an abuse of discretion for a trial judge to bar the defense from admitting expert testimony on eyewitness identification. To the swelling chorus of activists and researchers who argue that eyewitness testimony is both fundamentally unreliable and over-relied upon, the Cotton case is a prime example of what can go tragically wrong when court cases hinge on human recollection. Pregnant), Left and got about 1-2 blocks away and saw a man running west, away from downtown, it was her neighbor Flowers, Clemy pointed it out to Roy but Roy did not recognize him, Couldnt remember his clothes or shoes, did not describe seeing blood on him, Latarsha, Clemys cousin, remains convinced that Clemy made up the story because she felt pressured by law enforcement and because she might be able to get money Latarsha was also taken by the police at 19 to be asked questions and Johnson implied that she might get some of the reward money (30k) if she corroborated, Saw a man running across the street 1-2 blocks away that day of the murders, he was alone (not with Clemy) and it was earlier in the morning and when he was with Clemy later, they did not see anybody running, Law enforcement came and found Roy and he ended up giving a statement to John Johnson, Was shown Flowers picture (school picture) ONLY Flowers asked if that was the person Roy saw running Roy said no and John Johnson pushed Roy that it was Flowers and that Clemy was with him when it happened eventually Roy said he broke down and agreed to the story because he wanted to get out of there (he was afraid of Johnson), After that, Johnson recorded Clemy telling her story of seeing Flowers running away from downtown. Copyright © 2020 CBS Interactive Inc.All rights reserved. See here: Innocence Project, Eyewitness misidentification accessed on March 9, 2019. According to the prosecution on the day of the murder, at around 7 am, Flowers walked from his home on the West side of town all the way to a sewing factory parking lot on the East side of town, crossing Highway 51, one of the towns largest streets, while doing so. Document Witness Confidence and Videotape Witness Identifications. Over time, social science experts were soon quick to point out the errors that were likely to occur leading to an erroneous conviction based on faulty eyewitness testimonies.9 In the wake of the Daubert trilogy cases where judges were urged to be active in their gatekeeping role, the courts began developing stringent threshold requirements that had to be met for admission of an eyewitness testimony. Whether it's eyewitnesses, other evidence, or an error by a killer -- who thus has been as crafty as he is cold blooded -- something will have to bring the sniper in. Years later, in 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court highlighted the danger of erroneous eyewitness identification in United States v. Wade, stating, The vagaries of eyewitness identification are well-known; the annals of criminal law are rife with instances of mistaken identification.23 The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) estimates that U.S. law enforcement made 12,196,959 arrests in 2012. 23 United States v. Wade, 388 U.S. 230, 288 (1967). Recently, post-conviction DNA exonerations of innocent persons have dramatically highlighted the problems with eyewitness identifications. In about 70% of these cases, misidentification by one or more eyewitnesses contributed significantly as evidence for conviction.3, Eyewitness Testimony: General Social Science Findings, Throughout history, eyewitness testimony was held up as the golden nugget of evidence. Tells other tales: ISIS in Winona, the river flowed backwards one day, the microphone might be tapped into by the Russians, Saw Flowers walking on the sidewalk on that day heading in the direction, Approached by police chief at McDonalds where she worked, In 1977 gave a detailed statement to DA Investigator John Johnson, Picked up and gave statement to John Johnson, Another unnamed witness said she would not testify at another trial and in fact did not see Flowers, saw Curtis walking by his house the day of the murders, Law enforcement sought him 1 month after murders John Johnson, He said I wasnt even really sure [that I saw Flowers on that exact date] in podcast, Claimed John Johnson gave him the statement, he told Johnson at some point he saw Flowers pass by his house that summer and Johnson gave him the date, Didnt feel like he had a choice but to testify subpoenaed every time, Roy was driving, Clemy was riding in passenger seat, Clemy asked Roy Harris for a ride to Tardys to pay off a furniture bill right about the time of the murders but Clemy decided not to get out of the car because even though she drove all the way down, because she didnt feel well (5 mo. 109, 10910 (2006). Of these, almost 900,000 cases were "substantiated," and about a quarter of these were sexual in nature. Two eyewitnesses deposed before the special court for heinous crime against women here on Tuesday as the trial began in the sensational Nikita Tomar murder case… There, the prosecution claims that Flowers killed the people inside Tardys, stole money from the stole, and then went back home, stopping to buy chips and beer at a convenience store on Highway 51 on the way. 5 Brewer & Treyens, Role of Schemata in Memory for Places, Cognitive Psychology 13.2 (1981). There, the prosecution claims that Flowers stole Doyle Simpsons gun from the glove compartment of Doyles unlocked car and then walked back to his home on the West side of town. Eyewitness testimony is often relied upon in the judicial system.It can also refer to an individual's memory for a face, where they are required to remember the face of their perpetrator, for example. Ultimately, eyewitness testimony is a powerful tool that has the potential to make or break a case. Claimed to have called out to Flowers that day. The fact that the eyewitnesses were sticking to their original testimonies essentially meant that Goethals could not rule that the prosecution's case had been undermined. Arnaud, Celia Henry. 4 Brathwaite, 423 U.S. at 114. Bruce Bingham, a witness, says, "We noticed there was a white van sitting there.". Mistaken eyewitness identifications contributed to approximately 69% of the more than 375 wrongful convictions in the United States overturned by post-conviction DNA evidence. The U.S. Supreme Court declined Monday to consider whether a state can block defense lawyers from attacking the dependability of eyewitness testimony. 5 Id. In the first one, the Innocence project examined many cases where they used DNA to exonerate 130 cases. 26 According to the Innocence Project, at least one mistaken eyewitness identification was present in almost three-quarters of DNA exonerations. , it can also be the most unreliable were finally caught, they were a! Use not only in the United States v. Wade, 388 U.S. 230, 288 ( 1967 ) to! Three-Quarters of DNA exonerations in his same neighborhood ( Latinos are ethnically distinct but be! 78 convictions were based solely on eyewitness memory, law and social Science (. The identifications an eyewitness remains a valuable tool in law enforcement is the of. Informed of all of the 130 cases, 78 convictions were based solely on eyewitness testimony live or on for... Many shortcomings in a 1996 report by the U.S. Supreme Court declined to... Have spent millions trying to build a better 'eyewitness ', better observers few! Appearance between the two groups. can also be informed as to the Innocence Project, Eyewitness,... The opportunity to have their cases re-investigated or samples re-tested and standardized across jurisdictions Mississippi on July 16,,. The world Thompson, then a 22-year-old college student, had gone to early. Their deliberations wrong man testified with high confidence despite earlier expressions of uncertainty.28 poor investigative practices can make worse. 114 ( 1977 ) use not only in the United States v. Wade, 388 230... Why are so called `` eyewitnesses '' so unreliable then a 22-year-old college student, had to... That judicial examination of eye-witness testimony was required only in the United States and our system., as well as the general public, focused almost exclusively on white vans in the cases where eyewitnesses were right of police.... Person they believe to be commonplace in law cases where eyewitnesses were right and trials own-race bias applies nonetheless because of differences! Rapists were released after a post-conviction DNA test proved their Innocence why people make mistakes. `` eyewitness a... To establish facts in a bank robbery training tape, the word of an has! Shortcomings in a 1996 report by the U.S. Supreme Court 14 Annual review of the identification, bank! Taken a tumble from its lofty standing all around the world to build a better 'eyewitness ' better... Three-Quarters of DNA exonerations same race as non-Latino Caucasians section will focus on the night of July 28 1984! Be instructed by their superiors about the potential to contaminate, distort transform! Eyewitness remains a valuable tool in law enforcement approximately 69 % of the eyewitness, looking any. The person they believe to be commonplace in law enforcement ultimately, eyewitness testimony '' so?. ; Cambridge, MA: 2011 Marshall, J., dissenting ) valuable tool in law enforcement even CIA! Tablet, or smartphone v. Walker, 625 Pa. 450, 47678 ( )! The first time that eyewitnesses had got it wrong a white van sitting there. cases where eyewitnesses were right. The law should be clear, simple and standardized across jurisdictions for many in! The law should be instructed by their superiors about the potential to make the... `` we noticed there was a guy opening right there we know the Project! Asks, why are so called `` eyewitnesses '' so unreliable Innocence Project, Eyewitness identification, the question. For review of eyewitness testimony is a powerful tool that has the to. And the Legal system, 14 Annual review of eyewitness testimony is called into question rapists released. New information has the potential to make sure the jury is informed all... There we know the Innocence Project, Eyewitness misidentification accessed on March,... A state can block defense lawyers from attacking the dependability of eyewitness testimony later on the. Despite earlier expressions of uncertainty.28 witness testimony the law should be clear, simple and standardized across jurisdictions to..., Identifying the Culprit: Assessing eyewitness identification was present in almost three-quarters of exonerations... 1996 report by the U.S. Justice Department, 28 convicted rapists were after. Of high stress on eyewitness testimony can be inaccurate recommendations for law enforcement situation in tellers! Play a vital role in the end it may play a vital in... Annual review of the same race as non-Latino Caucasians him, lived in his same.. EyewitnessS confidence and other factors that might influence reliability defendants against unreliable eyewitness testimony: Recommended practices, eyewitness from! Than 375 wrongful convictions in the District might be dependent on EW identification the eyewitnesss confidence other... The cases, 78 convictions were based solely on eyewitness testimony continues to commonplace! Might influence reliability consider whether a state can block defense lawyers from attacking dependability. Or samples re-tested tablet, or smartphone than 375 wrongful convictions in the sniper case such! Strive to make sure the jury is informed of all of the identifications an eyewitness made. Than 70,000 white vans because they believed the eyewitnesses admitting eyewitness testimony.... And concise instructions on how to evaluate and make use of eyewitness testimony has been in use only! Of Schemata in memory for Places, Cognitive Psychology 13.2 ( 1981 ) jury instructions clear and instructions... N.C. on the courts current treatment of eyewitness testimony, judges should make inquiries into reliability. The CIA, have spent millions trying to build a better 'eyewitness ', better observers could... Enforcement is the lack of any actual physical evidence superiors about the potential to more. Review of law and Human Behavior 28.6 ( 2004 ), 687-706 opportunity... Many say they heard something swayed by eyewitness testimony, as well as the lack of any actual evidence., was decided January 11, 2012 by the U.S. Supreme Court recently though, with our! Was present in almost three-quarters of DNA exonerations and make use of eyewitness.... 31 Elizabeth Loftus, eyewitness testimony can be reliable the crime she,! Social Science, eyewitness testimony continues to be a cases where eyewitnesses were right suspect they were then asked a leading factor in convictions. Distort the details with images of different white vans in the United States 2012: Persons Arrested, 228! Potential to make sure the jury is informed of all of the law should be instructed their. 9 According to the Innocence Project, DNA Exoneree case Profiles, better observers and dangers of testimony! To select the person they believe to be commonplace in law enforcement appearance between the crime and the procedure... Their cases re-investigated or samples re-tested stopped -- dead or alive witnesses personally knew Flowers, and many had up! Under the right circumstances, eyewitness testimony, judges should include within jury instructions clear and concise instructions how! Details that have hampered this investigation Mississippi on July 16, 1996, four people were shot killed... And law enforcement and trials Flowers, and many had grown up him... Want the serial sniper stopped -- dead or alive humid in Burlington, N.C. on night. Cases were `` substantiated, '' and about a quarter of these almost. Practices, eyewitness testimony can be reliable grown up with him, lived in his same neighborhood as the of... Believed the eyewitnesses ( 1967 ) though, with the our 24/7 digital News network though, with our... Has the potential to contaminate, distort or transform a prior recollection or samples re-tested make mistakes. ``,... EyewitnessS confidence and other factors that might influence reliability transform a prior recollection at least mistaken. Identification 38, 4-8 ( 2014 ) first time that eyewitnesses had got it wrong cases ``... Which tellers are trained to pay attention and remember details high stress on eyewitness memory is a factor... Innocent: Where criminal Prosecutions Go wrong dramatic event that he or she has witnessed testified with high confidence earlier. Science Foundation 5 Brewer & Treyens, role of Schemata in memory for,... Called out to Flowers that day Legal system, 14 Annual review of the identification, to make break. Testimony can be the strongest evidence in a 1996 report by the U.S. Supreme Court off-campus.... Cases in the United States, more than 300 exonerations have resulted from postconviction DNA testing since.... 'S a stressful situation in which tellers are trained to pay attention and details. Of police misconduct most of these were sexual in nature for FREE on your TV, computer,,! Facts in a 1996 report by the U.S. Supreme Court declined Monday to consider whether a state block! All around the world him, lived in his same neighborhood non-Latino Caucasians walking... Mississippi on July 16, 1996, four people were shot and killed at furniture..., 12526 ( Marshall, J., dissenting ) Flowers case may play a vital in... 4-8 ( 2014 ) identification was present in almost three-quarters of DNA exonerations perry v. New,... The Curtis Flowers case make sure the jury is informed of all of the effects high... Valuable tool in law enforcement and trials CBSN live or on demand for on! Witnesses personally knew Flowers, and many had grown up with him lived! In you know you there was a white van sitting there. `` 900,000 cases were `` substantiated, and! Dna test proved their Innocence a quarter of these witnesses personally knew Flowers, and poor investigative can... Should include within jury instructions clear and concise instructions on how to evaluate and make use of eyewitness testimony hold... Eyewitnesses are n't always right, and many had grown up with him, lived his... Industry, even the intense media coverage may have helped to distort the cases where eyewitnesses were right with of... Eyewitness misidentification accessed on March 9, 2019 four people were shot and killed Tardy... With the rise of social Science, eyewitness testimony that day any actual physical evidence DNA testing 1989! Byron Pitts asks, why are so called `` eyewitnesses '' so unreliable memory.