Witnesses to a crime are extremely valuable when it comes to proving both innocence and guilt. Unfortunately, the mind does not work as a recorder and can accidentally and purposefully trick itself into remembering things it did not see. According to the Innocence Project, in the more than 375 overturned wrongful convictions in the United States, eyewitness testimony errors played a part in more than 69%.
This highlights a huge problem within the criminal justice system for both sides of the aisle as law enforcement personnel and defense attorneys struggle to find ways to make testimony more reliable.
Comprehensive research suggests reforms
Both judicial, prosecutorial and police organizations developed some common reforms to how administrators collect and record eyewitness testimony, to help ensure that all defendants have a fair shot when accused of a crime.
Lineups should always be visually recorded. In situations where this is not an option, a written or audio record is important.
When creating the lineup, both non-suspect and suspect photographs should not have any extreme characteristic that will draw attention to one or the other. A blended approach is important when choosing fillers in the lineup, considering the fillers’ resemblance to the description provided by the witness.
Right after choosing someone from a lineup, the witness should provide a written statement articulating how confident they are in the identification. This should be in their own words.
When giving instructions, the administrator should mention that the suspect might not be present in the lineup. This prevents witnesses from making a snap decision if what they see does not match their memory.
Evolving memories and minds
Memory is a constantly changing thing that scientists study regularly. As this research extends to testimony, it improves the entire criminal justice system.