The image of a victim of some crime up on the stand pointing to the defendant saying “That’s the one!” is probably the most powerful one of the trial. The human emotion in eyewitness accounts takes over, and juries are pulled into those stories. The Supreme Court along with multitudes of social scientists, however, are revisiting whether or not they are fair and worth even using in court.
There are multiple studies that show that nearly 1/3 of eyewitness identifications are wrong. The vast majority of wrongful convictions that have been overturned were a result of false identifications. Scientists note that memory is a fragile thing…it is not a perfect picture that is set in stone, but can be molded and shaped by environment, stress, peer pressure, etc.
The United States Supreme Court last visited the issue in the 70s, and since then, our understanding of memory and the human mind in general has been completely reshaped. Well over 2,000 studies have been published. “What they collectively show is that it is perilous to base a conviction on a witness’s identification of a stranger. Memory is not a videotape. It is fragile at best, worse under stress and subject to distortion and contamination.”
What do you think? Should eyewitness testimony and identification be held so highly in our courts? Is it even possible for jurors to take these portions of the trial less seriously than evidence-based material?
Chime in with your thoughts!