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Eyewitness Error Essay

1178 words - 5 pages

Memory is a cognitive function of the brain that is often taken for granted. Memory may have many purposes, but most importantly it is essentially a record of an entire life span. From this perspective memory is the most important aspect of consciousness. Unfortunately, through formal experimentation it has been shown that memory is fairly inaccurate, inconsistent, and often influenced by our own experiences as well as the bias of others. Memory is not only affected during an observed event, but there are instances where memory can be influenced after an event as well. There are also instances where memory can be affected retroactively due to personal experiences and biases. Incorrectly recalling the memories of one’s life is usually not detrimental, but the flawed nature of long-term and short-term memory functions becomes a serious matter in regards to criminal eyewitness testimony. In the justice system eyewitness reports are legitimate and can be crucial in the judging process. The justice system was constructed to rely on testimony that is often inaccurate and inconstant in many ways.
The manner in which memories are constructed lends itself to errors. According to the constructive approach to memory, what people remember is not only based on what actually happened, but also include other factors such as previous knowledge, experiences, and expectations (Goldstein, 2011, p. 249). This is troubling due to the fact that eyewitness testimony is the foundation of most criminal trials. The case of Mark Diaz Bravo is an example of how false testimony can not only destroy an individual’s life, but how eyewitness error can lead to the wrongfully convicted being falsely imprisoned. Mr. Bravo was accused of raping a psychiatric patient he was caring for at a hospital in Los Angeles County. He was sentenced to 8 years in prison after he was found guilty of the crime due to eyewitness testimony. After fighting for his innocence for four years it was found that neither his DNA nor the victims DNA was able to be located at the scene of the crime. Mr. Bravo was also cited as wrongfully convicted due to erroneous eyewitness testimony (“Innocence Lost,” 2004).
In the case previously described there are several moments where the witness could have recalled a false memory. Eyewitness error can occur during short-term memory or long-term memory function. From the constructive memory approach the witness could be influenced in a number of ways. If a male of Latino descent had attacked the eyewitness in the past, this could influence not only his or her perception, but also the consolidation of memory. The prejudices and bias of the eyewitness could also affect his or her memory. When the eyewitness is called to the stand for testimony there are many instances where their eyewitness testimony could be convoluted. According to the constructive memory theory memory also becomes less accurate over time. The eyewitness may remember the event in general, but after...

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