Studies say that even though 50% of eyewitness testimonies are wrong, the information given to the jury by a confident eyewitness beats the reliable facts of fingerprints and DNA. Researchers have studied the affects of eyewitness testimony and it is said that incorrect eyewitness identifications account for more convictions of innocent people than any other causes combined. Two studies have shown that after being questioned for a crime, positive feedback by police enforcers or other investigators made the eyewitness more confident, even if there answer was wrong. Unfortunately, how confident people are about making identifications doesn’t necessarily reflect how accurate their identification is. In fact, an eyewitness’ degree of certainty is quite flexible and can easily become overblown. “Confidence levels can be influenced by external factors that have nothing to do with the witness’s actual memories or perceptions of the event.” (psychologist, Elizabeth Brimacombe).
I believe that eyewitness testimony should not be used in court cases in which it is the only factor of determining the defendant’s future. Other factors should be considered. In some cases, the jury may not understand the concept of DNA and might not understand the importance and the accuracy of it. They have to understand also, that the witnesses are not lying or being deceptive, they are moral citizens and are trying to be contributive. In order to understand why eyewitnesses have such a high incorrectness level, it is important to know a few things about memory.
A person’s memory does not function like a video recorder. It is more like static, which changes and fluctuates over time. When someone experiences a consequential event, they remember only fragments of the situation and re-associate the information with previously stored memories and also prior expectations. Often times an event occurs in a split second and accurate details about the event are difficult to capture and maintain in one’s memory. If one was to look at a photo spread the first person that even resembles the perpetrator would automatically be questioned and put into custody. I believe that more should be considered, not just what the eyewitness remembers. I believe that jurors should be taught how to better appreciate and distinguish identifications that are more likely to be accurate from those that are likely to be the product of mistakes.
If jurors had been indoctrinated about such testimony some of the following cases could have freed the innocent.
n Donald Reynolds and Billy Wardell of Illinois each served 9 years of 55-year sentences before DNA testing proved their innocence and they were released from prison.
n Kevin Byrd served 12 years of a life sentence in Texas for a rape he did not commit. After DNA testing proved he could not have committed the crime, the prosecutor, judge, and sheriff in his case applied to Governor Bush for a pardon.
n Teenager Shareef Cousin remains one of 63 juvenile offenders on Death Row in the United States, notwithstanding increasingly mounting evidence that he did not commit the murder of which he was convicted. At his trial, and eyewitness identified him as the killer. But the State never turned over the defense a tape-recorded statement the witness made the police days after the crime in which she said that she didn’t know if she could identify the person because it was dark and she wasn’t wearing her glasses or contact lenses. At trial, she testified she was 100% certain Shareef was the killer. A new trial has been ordered, but he remains imprisoned.
It should be evident by now that these people are the lucky ones. Many innocent people are in jail serving long sentences or even awaiting execution for crimes they did not commit because DNA testing has not been available to them and time for their appeals has run out. If DNA testing was not made available or performed at trial, I think that enough time hasn’t been supplied to obtain innocence or guilt. An exception should be made to the filing deadlines for cases in which scientific evidence is likely to prove a person’s factual innocence.
In the following essay, I have provided information about eyewitness’ memory and also the importance of DNA testing in a criminal case. I have stated that I think it is important to consider more than just an eyewitness’s testimony in a life/death trial. If and eyewitness is the only evidence of a crime then a decision clearly should be maintained until more information is assembled. Most states refuse to fairly compensate a person’s wrongly convicted imprisonment and causes innocent people to be ripped from their families, jobs, and lives. Congress should be encouraged to establish laws that permit enough time to gather reasonable information for court cases.