An eyewitness testimony is a detailed account given by people who have witnessed an event. Over the years, the eyewitness testimony has been considered a reliable source of information and the juries pay close attention to it mostly because the confidence in the eyewitness testimony is persuasive but recent study shows that it might not be so reliable. The procedures in a criminal investigation can distort an eyewitness testimony and still the trauma of watching what happened could affect the individual psychologically. There are various reasons why eyewitness testimony is considered unreliable in most situations. Eyewitness testimony is thought to be affected mostly by psychological factors that may include anxiety or stress, weapon focus, and reconstructive theory. Stress or anxiety, for instance, that may rise from witnessing a real crime may affect the individual’s memory or more so limit the amount of information they can recall from that particular scene. Therefore, this piece of writing is geared towards analyzing the factors that make eyewitness testimony unreliable.
One of the major reasons is a reconstructive memory. Bartlett in his idea of reconstructive recollection proposed that it is vital to an empathetic of the trustworthiness of eyewitness proof. He recommended that people’s capacity to remember is based on personal interpretation depending on what they have learnt, what they believe in and in the way they make sense of their world (Nicholson, Yarbrough, & Penrod, 2014). Many people think that the memory works like a tape in that the information being encoded will be decoded in the same form, but it is not the case. People will tend to collect facts in a way that seems logical to them, this means that any information that is unacquainted or unconsciously intolerable is distorted in order to understand what people experience, and this can lead to undependable eyewitness evidence.
Bartlett’s study of War of the Ghosts, where his partakers were told a story and then told the same story to another individual, indicated that memory is not only an accurate footage of what has happened, but that individuals make effort after implication. By this, Bartlett implied that individuals attempt to fit what they recall with what they recognize and comprehend the world. As a result, individuals quite regularly change their reminiscences, so they become more practical to other people. From the The War of the Ghosts story we see that each person when asked to narrate the details of the account, seemed to remember it in their specific way and with each narrating, the passage become shorter, confusing ideas were omitted, and facts transformed to become more conversant (Roberts, 2014). For this study, Bartlett established that human memory is not precisely accurate and is depended by what individuals understand and interpret. This implies that people’s memories cannot be relied on all the time. The memory is an individual collection that have been shaped and changed to fit in what persons believe in and how they understand their society (Nicholson, Yarbrough, & Penrod, 2014).
Unconscious manipulation is another reason the eyewitness testimony is unreliable. Here is an example, a witness is asked to pick out the offender from a group of similar-looking people and since the police detectives who organize the lineup are usually the same ones who have identified or caught the criminal, they cannot help but drop little cues like smile, grunt and nod favorably when the witness points out the suspect. Other times the interrogators can unconsciously train people into having false memories.
A psychologist by the name Loftus was to show how consequent information could affect an eyewitness’s interpretation of a happening. Her findings also show that recollection of an incident that has been perceived could be easily altered, and this happens when an eyewitness is subjected to new data at the time of observing the occurrence and remembering it. Studies have shown that original memory can be altered. Loftus conducted a study to show how the language used in an eyewitness testimony could change what one recalls.
Loftus conducted two experiments and in one of them, we are shown that the response of the students was determined by the verb that was used. They were asked whether they saw broken glasses even though from the film there was no indication of any broken classes, but some said they saw the broken glasses. This was because Loftus used a different verb for the different groups of students ‘smash’, ‘hit’, and the last group was not asked anything. This misleading information he gave may have affected the response given by each student (Nicholson, Yarbrough, & Penrod, 2014). The student gave a response partiality but did not result to an untrue memory. This experiment shows that the ability to remember is affected by the interrogative procedure and information learned after the occasion can combine with the actual memory causing reconstructive memory.
Studies demonstrate that majority of judges pay more attention to the eyewitness evidence when determining if the offender is guilty or not. As much as the eyewitness testimony may sometimes be truthful, jurors must not be quick to agree due to the various aspects that can prejudice such claims. For instance, the jury members are likely to believe more the confession of eyewitnesses who report that they are confident about what they know even though findings show that extremely composed eyewitnesses are not always as correct as they think and that they are no different from the less confident eyewitnesses. Besides teaching adjudicators about the qualms around the eyewitness proof, obeying particular laws for the practice of classifying the accused can be able to make that evidence more precise.
Sometimes the memory persons do have unclear and blurred and this is because the imageries in people’s minds are certainly not as clear as an actual observation (Roberts, 2014). When individuals try to recall something, they end up remembering the bulky and important things, and the imagery is not as comprehensive as they would see it in the present. In an eyewitness testimony, the eyewitness memory is blurred because the trial occurs months maybe years later and by this time the memory of the eyewitness may not be as clear as it was during the event. Another concern may be the fact that information stored is mostly in oral method rather than as a picture. Therefore, the eyewitness will have half-full information. In other words, the witness complicates evidence that is stored in semantic and factual memories (Roberts, 2014).
Conclusively, the eyewitness testimony is an unreliable basis for evidence, and the jurors should not be too quick to agree to the information because, memory varies as time goes by. As individuals reminisce and talk about an event repeatedly, they add new information to future forms and fail to think of earlier, actual details. An eyewitness memory is distorted over time because of the many different times it has processed one event and the different ways by which they have been forced to recall the event. The human’s ability to remember does not exist so that an eyewitness would precisely report earlier perceived happenings, but it is an analysis of what people think they want to understand. This way, they end up eliminating information that may be crucial.
Nicholson, A. S., Yarbrough, A. M., & Penrod, S. D. (2014). Jury decision making and eyewitness testimony. In Encyclopedia of criminology and criminal justice (pp. 2727-2735). Springer New York.
Roberts, N. (2014). The Reliability of Eyewitness Testimony.