Essay, Research Paper: Eyewitnesses Reliability


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Studies say that even though 50% of eyewitness testimonies are wrong, the
information given to the jury by a confident eyewitness beats the reliable facts
of fingerprints and DNA. Researchers have studied the affects of eyewitness
testimony and it is said that incorrect eyewitness identifications account for
more convictions of innocent people than any other causes combined. Two studies
have shown that after being questioned for a crime, positive feedback by police
enforcers or other investigators made the eyewitness more confident, even if
there answer was wrong. Unfortunately, how confident people are about making
identifications doesn't necessarily reflect how accurate their identification
is. In fact, an eyewitness' degree of certainty is quite flexible and can easily
become overblown. "Confidence levels can be influenced by external factors
that have nothing to do with the witness's actual memories or perceptions of the
event." (psychologist, Elizabeth Brimacombe). I believe that eyewitness
testimony should not be used in court cases in which it is the only factor of
determining the defendant's future. Other factors should be considered. In some
cases, the jury may not understand the concept of DNA and might not understand
the importance and the accuracy of it. They have to understand also, that the
witnesses are not lying or being deceptive, they are moral citizens and are
trying to be contributive. In order to understand why eyewitnesses have such a
high incorrectness level, it is important to know a few things about memory. A
person's memory does not function like a video recorder. It is more like static,
which changes and fluctuates over time. When someone experiences a consequential
event, they remember only fragments of the situation and re-associate the
information with previously stored memories and also prior expectations. Often
times an event occurs in a split second and accurate details about the event are
difficult to capture and maintain in one's memory. If one was to look at a photo
spread the first person that even resembles the perpetrator would automatically
be questioned and put into custody. I believe that more should be considered,
not just what the eyewitness remembers. I believe that jurors should be taught
how to better appreciate and distinguish identifications that are more likely to
be accurate from those that are likely to be the product of mistakes. If jurors
had been indoctrinated about such testimony some of the following cases could
have freed the innocent. n Donald Reynolds and Billy Wardell of Illinois each
served 9 years of 55-year sentences before DNA testing proved their innocence
and they were released from prison. n Kevin Byrd served 12 years of a life
sentence in Texas for a rape he did not commit. After DNA testing proved he
could not have committed the crime, the prosecutor, judge, and sheriff in his
case applied to Governor Bush for a pardon. n Teenager Shareef Cousin remains
one of 63 juvenile offenders on Death Row in the United States, notwithstanding
increasingly mounting evidence that he did not commit the murder of which he was
convicted. At his trial, and eyewitness identified him as the killer. But the
State never turned over the defense a tape-recorded statement the witness made
the police days after the crime in which she said that she didn't know if she
could identify the person because it was dark and she wasn't wearing her glasses
or contact lenses. At trial, she testified she was 100% certain Shareef was the
killer. A new trial has been ordered, but he remains imprisoned. It should be
evident by now that these people are the lucky ones. Many innocent people are in
jail serving long sentences or even awaiting execution for crimes they did not
commit because DNA testing has not been available to them and time for their
appeals has run out. If DNA testing was not made available or performed at
trial, I think that enough time hasn't been supplied to obtain innocence or
guilt. An exception should be made to the filing deadlines for cases in which
scientific evidence is likely to prove a person's factual innocence. In the
following essay, I have provided information about eyewitness' memory and also
the importance of DNA testing in a criminal case. I have stated that I think it
is important to consider more than just an eyewitness's testimony in a
life/death trial. If and eyewitness is the only evidence of a crime then a
decision clearly should be maintained until more information is assembled. Most
states refuse to fairly compensate a person's wrongly convicted imprisonment and
causes innocent people to be ripped from their families, jobs, and lives.
Congress should be encouraged to establish laws that permit enough time to
gather reasonable information for court cases.
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