The Innocence Project endorses a range of procedural reforms to improve the accuracy of eyewitness identification. These reforms have been recognized by police, prosecutorial and judicial experience, as well as national justice organizations, including the National Institute of Justice and the American Bar Association. The benefits of these reforms are corroborated by over 30 years of peer-reviewed comprehensive research.
4. Confidence Statements: Immediately following the lineup procedure, the eyewitness should provide a statement, in his own words, that articulates the level of confidence he or she has in the identification made.
Find all the parts of the Model Jury Instructions on Eyewitness Identification, including the statement of the Supreme Judicial Court, the preliminary/contemporaneous instruction, and the model eyewitness identification instruction.
A number of years ago, while serving as deputy chief of the Wellesley (Massachusetts) Police Department, I was sent by my chief to a symposium on eyewitness identification reform. It would be an understatement to say that I went with reservations about the subject matter. I remember thinking that the policy recommendations that would be discussed amounted to little more than a problem in search of a solution.
As a result, the Wellesley Police Department ended up changing its eyewitness identification policy, as has the Norwood (Massachusetts) Police Department, where I currently serve as chief of police. These departments, along with a growing number of others in Massachusetts and throughout the country, have adopted evidence-based eyewitness identification best practices that protect the departments, the prosecutors, and the public from eyewitness misidentifications and possible wrongful convictions.
In October, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) released the first ever comprehensive report on the science of eyewitness identification practices in the United States. The report, Identifying the Culprit, to which I had the privilege to contribute as a committee member, recommended that law enforcement adopt the following practices:
This means that there is no longer any reason for chiefs or heads of law enforcement departments to be skeptical about the usefulness of these practices, a sentiment I can absolutely relate to. The scientific debate around these practices is over, and this report provides law enforcement agencies across the country an opportunity to update their eyewitness identification policies with the strong, scientifically supported practices.
For some time now, numerous eyewitness memory scholars have believed that, at least in some circumstances, there can be a modest relationship between how confident eyewitnesses say they were at the time of identifying a suspect (as opposed to during the trial) and the likelihood that they correctly selected the culprit from a lineup or an array of mug shots. And some experts in the field go so far as to say that the relationship between initial confidence and accuracy is actually quite strong.
One academic who believes the relationship between initial confidence and accuracy is strong is John T. Wixted, a psychology professor at the University of California, San Diego. He is the lead author of paper in the September 2015 issue of American Psychologist in which he and his coauthors argue that the other camp of researchers, those who have found a null-to-modest relationship between initial witness confidence and accuracy, relied on the wrong type of statistical analysis. That form of analysis asks the question: based on whether the ID was correct or not, how well can you deduce the initial confidence of the witness? But this is the wrong question, Wixted says. The right question is: based on the level of initial eyewitness confidence, how well can you predict whether the ID was correct? If you take this approach, the paper argues, the true relationship between initial confidence and accuracy is revealed, and it is strong.
Other research has specifically pointed to this sort of confidence-inflation as a factor in wrongful convictions. Brandon Garrett of the University of Virginia School of Law, for example, recently analyzed 161 cases of eyewitness misidentification that later resulted in DNA exonerations. He found that more than half of the initial trials involved a witness who, like Jennifer Thompson, was unsure at the time of the suspect ID, but who then expressed confidence in his or her choice when testifying in a courtroom.
Identifying the Culprit: Assessing Eyewitness Identification makes the case that better data collection and research on eyewitness identification, new law enforcement training protocols, standardized procedures for administering line-ups, and improvements in the handling of eyewitness identification in court can increase the chances that accurate identifications are made. This report explains the science that has emerged during the past 30 years on eyewitness identifications and identifies best practices in eyewitness procedures for the law enforcement community and in the presentation of eyewitness evidence in the courtroom. In order to continue the advancement of eyewitness identification research, the report recommends a focused research agenda.
The following videos have been created to provide roll-call training regarding show-ups, photo arrays, and live lineups. the following videos have been created to provide roll-call training regarding show-ups, photo arrays, and live lineups. They were created by the IACP and the Norwood Police Department to provide training on best practices for eyewitness identification procedures.
Gathering information about an historic earthquake from people rather than scientific instruments may seem like a task for Sherlock Holmes, but even today scientists rely on eyewitness reports to help determine the location and shaking effects of tremors in regions with and without seismometers.
Although the world is a much different place than it was two centuries ago, lacking eyewitness accounts can still lead to poor characterizations of even relatively strong shaking, which can hinder immediate emergency response and affect tools that are used to estimate losses in life and property.
Previous studies have found a high confidence rating from eyewitnesses (i.e., 90% or more) implies greater accuracy. But when an eyewitness picks a filler or rejects the whole lineup, which happens in an estimated 24% and 35% of lineups, respectively, investigators miss out on potentially valuable evidence.
This first exhibition focusing on views of historic events includes more than 40 works, many never seen before in the U.S. These paintings turn the viewer into an eyewitness on the scene, bringing the spectacle and drama of history to life.
Eyewitness testimony is what happens when a person witnesses a crime (or accident, or other legally important event) and later gets up on the stand and recalls for the court all the details of the witnessed event. It involves a more complicated process than might initially be presumed. It includes what happens during the actual crime to facilitate or hamper witnessing, as well as everything that happens from the time the event is over to the later courtroom appearance. The eyewitness may be interviewed by the police and numerous lawyers, describe the perpetrator to several different people, and make an identification of the perpetrator, among other things.
In addition to correctly remembering many details of the crimes they witness, eyewitnesses often need to remember the faces and other identifying features of the perpetrators of those crimes. Eyewitnesses are often asked to describe that perpetrator to law enforcement and later to make identifications from books of mug shots or lineups. Here, too, there is a substantial body of research demonstrating that eyewitnesses can make serious, but often understandable and even predictable, errors (Caputo & Dunning, 2007; Cutler & Penrod, 1995).
This process is modeled in laboratory studies of eyewitness identifications. In these studies, research subjects witness a mock crime (often as a short video) and then are asked to make an identification from a photo or a live lineup. Sometimes the lineups are target present, meaning that the perpetrator from the mock crime is actually in the lineup, and sometimes they are target absent, meaning that the lineup is made up entirely of foils. The subjects, or mock witnesses, are given some instructions and asked to pick the perpetrator out of the lineup. The particular details of the witnessing experience, the instructions, and the lineup members can all influence the extent to which the mock witness is likely to pick the perpetrator out of the lineup, or indeed to make any selection at all. Mock witnesses (and indeed real witnesses) can make errors in two different ways. They can fail to pick the perpetrator out of a target present lineup (by picking a foil or by neglecting to make a selection), or they can pick a foil in a target absent lineup (wherein the only correct choice is to not make a selection).
To conclude, eyewitness testimony is very powerful and convincing to jurors, even though it is not particularly reliable. Identification errors occur, and these errors can lead to people being falsely accused and even convicted. Likewise, eyewitness memory can be corrupted by leading questions, misinterpretations of events, conversations with co-witnesses, and their own expectations for what should have happened. People can even come to remember whole events that never occurred.
The problems with memory in the legal system are real. But what can we do to start to fix them? A number of specific recommendations have already been made, and many of these are in the process of being implemented (e.g., Steblay & Loftus, 2012; Technical Working Group for Eyewitness Evidence, 1999; Wells et al., 1998). Some of these recommendations are aimed at specific legal procedures, including when and how witnesses should be interviewed, and how lineups should be constructed and conducted. Other recommendations call for appropriate education (often in the form of expert witness testimony) to be provided to jury members and others tasked with assessing eyewitness memory. Eyewitness testimony can be of great value to the legal system, but decades of research now argues that this testimony is often given far more weight than its accuracy justifies. 041b061a72