Scholars and practitioners alike share a widespread belief that the single greatest cause of wrongful conviction is because of an eyewitness testimony. April 23, 2007, marked the 200th criminal conviction exonerated by DNA evidence in the United States of America. According to www.innocenceproject.org, over 75% of the 200 criminal cases revealed to be wrongful convictions involved a faulty eyewitness testimony. Collectively, these 200 people spent a total of 2,475 years in prison. With factors such as witness memory, dependability, deception, and the outside influences one may encounter, psychologists and practitioners have begun to dispute whether or not an eyewitness is credible and therefore should be used in a legal court of law. In January of 2012 the Supreme Court reconsidered the use of eyewitness identification in court and in an 8 to 1 vote, court justices decided to change nothing. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote “There is no reason for the court to change its view that judges on their own cannot throw out eyewitness testimony unless police have manipulated circumstances to produce a desired outcome.” (Barnes 2012) Which begs the question that if the Supreme Court accepts eyewitness identification routinely, then is it credible? In this paper we’re going to explore eyewitness testimonies and their fallibilities, which lead to the conclusion that they should not be used in court.
We first start off by determining how we know that a testimony is credible. With many factors involved, such as a person’s disability, knowledge, and personal circumstances, eyewitnesses have a lot of easy influence over their testimony or identification, making it difficult to decide whether or not it is credible. Let’s start off with how a person’s memory can impact an eyewitness. In Courtrooms memory experts are commonly called upon to make clear to jurors “Memory is not a video tape." (Terrell & Weaver, 2008) Not only does memory become stagnated in an emotional situation, but is also malleable. For example, a witness can recall a murderer and remember that he had a birthmark on his cheek, but if an investigator asks what else they recall of the man with a tattoo on his cheek, the eyewitness may believe that he had a tattoo and forget about the birthmark. This post-event misinformation becomes integrated into the witness' memory of the event, a phenomenon known as the "misinformation effect" (Loftus, Donders, Hoffman, & Schooler, 1989). Judges have been very reluctant recently in allowing expert testimonies on memory. There are many reasons for why judges have been so argumentative over the idea. The first is almost all eyewitness memory research is tailored to criminal cases in which the relevance of an expert’s testimony is minimal to the actual case. The second reason is that relatively little eyewitness memory research has examined long-term memory for events, but rather that of the short-term memory. Although there is lack of...