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Faulty Eyewitness Testimony Essay

2815 words - 11 pages

Eyewitness testimony has been used frequently over time in various situations. It sometimes holds more merit then some facts or evidence. Yet it is also the reason why many innocent people go to jail and criminals still walk free. Eyewitness testimony has been used for over 100 years. It has played a major part in convicting criminals, from the common thief to the most dangerous murderer. However, with the time between incident and testimony or even report can vary drastically, the quality of eyewitness testimony wasn't really recognized as an issue until the 1970's. With plenty of unsolved crimes and not enough evidence eyewitness testimony was all that was needed. Now with psychologists holding scientific studies to see if it is reliable; the legal jurisdictions try to pay more attention to the specific details. Through many studies it has been shown how the accuracy of the reports given can be altered by the ethnicity of the person and their current emotional state. It is believed that if a weapon is used in the crime that is witnessed then the eyewitness might become distracted by the event, impairing their judgment (Wagstaff, Macveigh, Boston, Scott, Brunas-Wagstaff, &Cole 2003). This research essay will answer questions about how often faulty eyewitness testimony occurs, how it happens, and finally I will discuss how we as a society can attempt to fix it.October 2002, ten people were killed and three injured when two snipers went on a killing spree in the Washington, D.C. area. Soon after the first shootings, police announced they were looking for a white male in his twenties, driving a white Van. Loftus gives the example of the sniper attacks in the fall of 2002."Everybody was looking for a white van even though the perpetrators, in actuality, had been driving a dark Chevy Caprice." That's because some people reported seeing a white van at the scene of the crime. "Witnesses overhear each other," says Loftus, and police may also unintentionally influence people's memories when they talk about a crime."This profile was based on the collaboration of a psychologist and eyewitness testimony. In this instance the Police relied heavily upon this profile, which clouded their judgment about other more likely suspects, such as John Allen Muhammad and John Lee Malvo. During the weeks of the attacks, these men were pulled over four times for being in the area of a shooting. However, police allowed them to go without a question, because they were looking for a white male. If law enforcement officials had not relied so heavily on eyewitness reports to connect Muhammad and Malvo with the shootings, perhaps they would have been apprehended before further tragedy. Unfortunately, police used racial profiling, faulty eyewitness testimony and a psychologist who basically guessed, resulting in a faulty investigation. Once again, it proved an ineffective tool for catching perpetrators.Now in the 20th century we have discovered a new way to prove...

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