Eyewitness testimony can play a beneficial part in the criminal justice system. However, the tendency of convicting innocent individuals through eyewitness evidence is estimated at a staggering 45 percent (Sycamnias, 1999).
Despite several factors that can contribute to the inaccuracy of witness testimony, the reliability of its accuracy is still relatively high, based on the implicit “assumption that the human mind is a precise recorder and storer of events (Loftus and Ketcham, 1991). ” The accuracy of eyewitness testimony can be influenced by situational and witness factors.Specifically, witness factors are affected by the age of witness and expectancies and stereotypes. The controversy surrounding age is less concerned with the ability to recall accurate events but rather more on the minimum age of children whose testimony can already be admissible in court.
It is believed that younger children have a tendency to distort facts when leading questions are used to interrogate them. On the other hand, the expectancies and stereotypes also affect what people expect to see.Because criminal situations are not typical experiences of a person, he or she is more prone to distort facts about the events which would be consistent with their expectations. Cognitive constructs which may affect perception, malleability of a person’s memory and misinformation effect can all affect the reliability of an eyewitness.
This leads us to take a closer look in procedures that can assist investigators in decreasing, if not altogether eliminating, the inaccuracy of such testimonies.The police lineup is a crucial procedure in the pretrial identification. During this stage, the accuracy of the eyewitness’ testimony can be affected by the officers who administer suspect lineups and photo identification in mug books. It is therefore the key role of the attending officer to record the eyewitness account and descriptions of the offender prior to divulging any information that may lead the witness to give a subjective testimony.
Referred to as “suggestibility,” this reinforces the tendency of witnesses to “accept uncritical information during questioning, or merely complying with what they believe the interviewer wants to hear (Sycamnias, 1999). ” The remedy to this dilemma can be addressed initially by informing the eyewitness of the possibility that the culprit may not be present in the lineup. This relieves them of the pressure that the suspect is present in the lineup.An undisclosed number of lineups is also suggested to give the witness the impression that the culprit may not be present in each and therefore not make rash decisions based on initial perception.
Furthermore, the suspect lineup should be individuals who fit the basic recollection of the witness, consisting of people who bear a close resemblance to individuals remembered by the witness, for instance, of the same race.Finally, officers attending to the lineup should be unaware of facts surrounding the case and should not give comments after the selection as this may lead to distorted testimonies in later stages of the investigation. I have confidence in our judicial system with regards to the admissibility of eyewitness testimony. While there is still the consequential possibility of human error, proper implementation with regards to witness identification and psychological interrogation can still produce more sound judgments.
Because of the enormous impact of eyewitness testimony to the outcome of a trial, prosecutors and investigators should observe strict adherence to the said guidelines including the right setting, proper questioning of child witnesses, and if needed, expert administration of polygraph testing to further reduce the possibility of errors. If these are carefully implemented, regardless of the inaccuracies inherent in eyewitness evidence, there will definitely be an improvement in the alarming wrongful conviction rate we currently have today.