Have you ever witnessed a crime? If so, do you believe you remember it accurately? If you’re like most who have been an eyewitness to a criminal act, you probably believe that you were easily able to recount exactly what occurred.
The truth, though, is that most of us are not able to correctly recall the details of a stressful event, even though we fully believe we can.
Thousands of studies on eyewitness testimony have concluded that many factors affect the accuracy of witness recall, including physical exertion before or during an event, receiving misinformation about the incident after the fact, or experiencing trauma during the incident itself. As a result, some court systems have changed the way they treat eyewitness testimony. According to a New York Times article on New Jersey’s changes to court rules and procedures regarding eyewitnesses in 2011:
The decision listed more than a dozen factors that judges should consider in evaluating the reliability of a witness’s identification, including whether a weapon was visible during a crime of short duration, the amount of time the witness had to observe the event, how close the witness was to the suspect, whether the witness was under the influence of alcohol or drugs, whether the witness was identifying someone of a different race and the length of time that had elapsed between the crime and the identification.
This week’s videos feature some fascinating information about the challenges of eyewitness testimony, including the below Ted Talk by Scott Fraser, a forensic psychologist who studies memory and crime. He tells the story of his involvement as an expert witness in a murder case that relied heavily on eyewitness testimony, and which has a very interesting outcome.
Scott Fraser’s Ted Talk on memory and crime
And, if you want to see just how fallible memory can be, take a look at the below video that explores an experiment conducted in a college classroom to test students’ ability to recall the details of a staged crime.
The Eyewitness Test: How do you stack up?
Keeps your eyes peeled, and have a safe weekend!
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