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Critically evaluate the literature and, based on research evidence, justify your conclusions. An eyewitness testimony is a recollection of an event that a person has witnessed for example giving information of a mugging if they saw it happen. They would have to give details on the mugger and what exactly happened. Eyewitness testimonies are widely used and relied on in the legal system, especially in court where jurors base their verdict heavily on the eyewitness testimony. The only problem is that there is a lot of research to support the idea that eyewitness testimonies are not reliable. Eyewitness testimonies can be affected by a number of things, for example stress and misleading questions, these can cause the testimony to be altered and become highly unreliable. This suggests that eyewitness testimonies should not be used as evidence to identify crime suspects. Research has been conducted into eyewitness testimonies to see what affects the witness's recall of events and why their testimonies are not correct. Research has also been conducted to see what increases the reliability of eyewitness testimonies and to help jurors not to rely as heavily on the testimonies and consider all the evidence
Hundreds of thousands of people each year in the USA, England and Wales are found guilty of crimes based entirely on eyewitness accounts. In the courts eyewitness testimonies are very influential pieces of evidence. However DNA evidence is also a strong piece of evidence. Old court cases where people have already been convicted have been examined again but with DNA tests. These examinations have cleared innocent people's names; these tests have shown that innocent people were convicted for something they did not do. Wells et al (1998 as cited in..) found that out of the 40 DNA cases to prove the innocence of people, that 90% used eyewitness testimonies. Of these testimonies at least one of the witnesses falsely identified a person. It has also been found by Scheck, Neufield and Dawyer (2000 as cited in..) that out of 62 re-examination cases there were 52 mistaken identities, with an overall 77 wrong eyewitness testimonies. This caused Wells et al (1998 as cited in ...) to suggest that "eyewitness identification evidence is amongst the least reliable forms of evidence and yet it is persuasive to juries" Unfortunately eyewitness testimonies are still used widely and highly depended on because DNA evidence cannot always be used. DNA evidence is usually only used in sexual assault cases. Again this is further evidence to suggest that eyewitness testimonies should not be relied on to identify crime suspects. Eye witness testimonies seem to convict more innocent people than actual criminals.(maybe put in conclusion)
It has been found by Cunningham and Tyrell(1976 cited in..) that jurors will believe eyewitness testimonies over several other witnesses and evidence, for example a defendant was convicted of a crime even though 40 people testified in his defence. He was convicted because there were 9 eye witness testimonies even though most of them could not be sure that he was the person they saw committing the crime. Due to this Harmon Hosch, E Beck and Patricia McIntyre(1980) conducted a study in which they looked at the jurors studying a case. They also looked at juror's responses to expert testimonies and to what would get jurors not to rely as heavily on eye witness testimonies. Hosch, Beck and McIntyre(1980) simulated a court case in which a robbery had been committed. In this case the eyewitness testimony was the only evidence linking the defendant to the crime. The defence showed evidence that the accused had been at his girlfriend's house and had then gone to work, arriving on time. The defendant had also been on the phone to his girlfriend at the time of the burglary. There were 4 Jurors, they all heard the police testimony, the eyewitness testimony, the defendant and the defendant's girlfriend. After this, two of the jurors were led out of the room, the two remaining jurors then heard an expert testimony. The expert testimony being a psychologist, the testimony included evidence to suggest that eyewitness testimonies can be influenced by a number of factors. The jurors were then led to separate rooms so they could deliberate and agree on a verdict. From this study Hosch, Beck and McIntyre (1980) found that the inclusion of an expert testimony increased the juror's time used examining the eyewitness testimony. The two jurors that had had heard the expert testimony spent 27.9% of their time assigned to the eyewitness where as the jurors who had not heard the expert testimony only spent 9.58% of their time examining the eye witness testimony. Hosch, Beck and McIntyre(1980) also found that the Jurors who heard the expert testimony spent more time looking at the other evidence shown by the defence. This study shows that eyewitness testimonies should still be used as evidence but that there should also be an expert testimony presented. The expert testimony gets the jurors to consider the idea that not all eyewitness testimonies are accurate, and that there is other evidence that is just as important. Eye witness testimonies should be relied on to identify crime suspects as long as it matches with the other evidence presented.
Elizabeth Loftus is one of the main researchers into eyewitness testimonies. She has conducted many experiments into this area; one particular study was on the effects of leading questions. A leading question is where a question implies the sought after answer or leads the person to the required answer. Loftus conducted the experiment with John Palmer. They showed 45 participants 7 films, showing a road traffic accident. The participants were then asked a number of questions about what they had just seen. They were asked how fast the cars were going when they hit each other. For each group of participants the experimenters changed the word hit for the question, to include the words smashed, collided, bumped and contacted. They found that the wording of the question affected the participant's report of the speed. Those in the smashed group had a higher mean speed than those in the contacted group. Loftus and Palmer explained this in two ways. Firstly it could be that the word smashed makes participants estimate higher, particularly if they are unsure what speed to say. Secondly it could be that participant's memory was changed by the wording for example the word smashed may have made the participant remember the accident as more sever, therefore faster. This experiment shows how people's testimonies can be easily changed by a few words; this experiment suggests that eyewitness testimonies are not reliable and that they should not be used to identify crimes.
Loftus and Palmer (1974) conducted a second experiment to support their results further. They showed 150 participants a film of a road accident. Participants were then split into 3 conditions; control group, smashed group and hit group. Participants were asked the question on how fast the car was going? Participants returned a week later and were asked a series of questions. One of the questions being did you see any broken glass? When in fact there was no broken glass in the film. 32% of the participants in the smashed group said yes to seeing broken glass compared to the 14% in the hit group. This again suggests that the original wording of a question can affect our judgement and recall in the future. Therefore a leading question in an initial police interview can change a person's memory; this could have serious consequences for future answers to questions in court. This could lead to an innocent person being convicted of a crime they did not conduct. This research has shown how eyewitness testimonies can change by one question and how unreliable these testimonies can be. Consequently it also suggests that eyewitness testimonies should not be used to identify crimes or crime suspects.
Eyewitness testimonies initially can be very accurate as long as they are not subjected to leading or restricting questions, or delays between the incident and the recall. Jack Lipton (1977) conducted a study that looked at these factors which decrease the reliability of eyewitness testimonies. Lipton (1977) showed 80 participants a film of a mugging in a quiet LA park. Participants would then have to testify immediately or a week later. They would be scored on how many items they identified. There were 144 items of which 48 were assigned to the question types (leading, multiple choice and open ended) used and levels of question bias(positive, negative and neutral). Lipton(1977) found that accuracy decreased by 4.3% after a week delay, he also found that open ended questions were 83% accurate compared to leading questions being only 72% accurate and multiple choice questions being the least accurate with only 56% accurate. Also neutral bias questions had the highest accuracy with 83%. This caused Lipton to conclude that the way a question is expressed has huge consequences on the correctness of an eyewitness testimony for example an attorney can use questions to manipulate the testimony in their favour. Also he concluded that unstructured questions result in very accurate but incomplete eyewitness testimonies and the opposite when the questions are structured. Eyewitness testimonies therefore could be relied on to identify crime suspects as long as the testimony is taken straight away and is not restricted. Although the testimony may not be complete it could give valuable insight into who may have committed the crime specially when combined with other evidence.
There is a lot of evidence to suggest that eyewitness testimonies should not be relied on to identify a crime suspect. This is due to testimonies being subjected to factors that could change the witness's memory of the event. Unfortunately some factors cannot be removed to stop this happening, for example you cannot stop a person from getting stressed. However the delay between the event and the recall could b decreased so the memory is fresh and more accurate. Also the way the testimony is recalled could be changed so that the witness is not restricted or mislead by the questions asked. The eyewitness testimony should be relied on as long as it has supporting evidence.