Eyewitness testimony is an integral part of the justice system. Eyewitnesses provide an account of the events that happened, allowing other parties such as lawyers, judges, and jurors to reconstruct the circumstances surrounding a crime and identify the parties involved. Although eyewitness testimony is often used in criminal proceedings, the accuracy and reliability of such testimony have often been called into question. These concerns are quite valid given the fact that human memory is affected by various factors. The question of whether eyewitness testimony is reliable helps relevant parties decide whether such testimony can be used to serve justice. If an eyewitness is deemed reliable, then their testimony plays a considerable role in convicting an offender. Given the central role of eyewitness testimony in the justice system, it is important to investigate whether these testimonies have proven to be accurate and trustworthy.
Dahl et al. conducted a study to determine how reliable eyewitness testimonies are in case of a crime. The crime in this study involved a fatal shooting. Police officers responded to reports of an assailant armed with a knife who stabbed three individuals, one of whom later died. The perpetrator refused to respond to police commands to stand down, and officers fired several shots. Thirteen witnesses, including four officers, recounted the events, which were then compared to a video recording of the crime. Eyewitness testimony differed from the video record, showing that the testimony could not be relied upon in court. One of the factors that have influenced the witnesses’ memories is stress, which affects their memory and perception (Dahl, et al. 2018). Moderate stress levels lead to enhanced memory, while high stress levels can impair memory as per the traumatic memory argument.
I found this article by conducting a search on the accuracy of eyewitness testimony on google scholar and choosing one that best related to the topic. The article is reliable as it is published in a scholarly journal. The researchers did not receive any direct funding for the project, meaning they remained unbiased. One major limitation of the study is that it involved real-life events, so the explained causes of distortion are primarily speculative. The study is also limited by the risk of circular arguments, where witnesses strive to give testimony supporting existing data. One strength of the study is that it involves real-life events, which means it closely resembles many scenarios that occur daily in courts of law.
Gustafsson and colleagues also carried out a study to investigate how confidence affects the accuracy of eyewitness testimony. Most of the time, it is assumed that the more confident a person is, the more accurate their testimony—the findings of the study support this hypothesis. The authors of the article explain that eyewitness testimony tends to be unreliable and plays a major role in a wrongful conviction. Multiple factors affect the accuracy of eyewitness testimony. The study involved twenty-two psychology students who watched a video of a simulated crime, then later responded to questions about the crime. The video was one minute long and involved a male figure stabbing another at a bus stop. Participants detailed their recollections about the events in the video. The researchers predicted that confidence and retrieval effort cues affected the accuracy of the respondents’ memories (Gustafsson et al., 2019). Correct responses came much faster than incorrect ones, showing that confidence is a predictor of accuracy. Correct statements also involved fewer retrieval cues as compared to incorrect ones.
I found the article by conducting a second search for scholarly articles on google scholar and narrowing down the results based on my topic. I found the article reliable due to its recent publication date and the fact that it is published in a scholarly journal. The researchers reported that one of the major limitations is the fact that the controlled experiments may not translate into real-world settings. For example, respondents in the study were interviewed immediately after watching the simulated crime video, while eyewitness testimony may take a few days in real life. One strength of the study is that the controlled experiment allowed researchers to observe the respondents through the process and compare their testimony to the events in the video.
After examining both articles, eyewitness testimony appears to be quite unreliable. The witnesses’ memory is affected by too many factors such as stress, time, and emotions, meaning that different individuals give different accounts based on these factors. The articles were published in 2018 and 2019, making them relatively recent. The findings of these studies still hold true because they represent current information from recent research. The articles help me better understand eyewitnesses and their testimonies. At times, witnesses are found to have given false testimonies, but they believe their recollections are correct. The articles explain the various factors that influence and distort memory, meaning that the witnesses may not be consciously lying.
The findings from the studies apply to various stakeholders in the justice system, such as the eyewitnesses themselves, attorneys, jurors, and judges. The information on the accuracy and trustworthiness of eyewitness testimony will help them keep an open mind, knowing that there are various factors at play. Eyewitness testimony tends to be a vital part of the justice system, so it is important to understand the factors that affect the accuracy of these statements. Eyewitness testimony should be used alongside other supporting evidence but not taken on its own as it can prove to be quite untrustworthy.
Dahl, M., Granér, S., Fransson, P. A., Bertilsson, J., & Fredriksson, P. (2018). Analysis of eyewitness testimony in a police shooting with fatal outcome–Manifestations of spatial and temporal distortions. Cogent Psychology, 5(1), 1487271. doi:10.1080/23311908.2018.1487271
Gustafsson, P. U., Lindholm, T., & Jönsson, F. U. (2019). Predicting Accuracy in Eyewitness Testimonies With Memory Retrieval Effort and Confidence. Frontiers in psychology, 10, 703.