How to Fix Eyewitness Testimony


A new report from the National Research Council aims to provide police departments and courts with a set of best practices for assessing and using eyewitness identification in criminal cases.

Research during the last few decades has made it increasingly clear that eyewitness testimony in criminal cases can be prone to inaccuracy or error, according to the report, which dozens of academics and law enforcement experts contributed to.

The report notes that human visual perception and memory is limited and law enforcement often gives unintentional cues that can compromise eyewitness identifications.

Conditions such as dim lighting, stress, or the presence of a “visually distracting element such as a gun or knife,” can compromise perception, according to the report.

To combat these issues, the report makes a series of recommendations for cops, courts and the academic community.

Suggested best practices for law enforcement:

  • Train all law enforcement officers in the factors that influence and limit eyewitness identification
  • Implement double-blind lineup and photo array procedures
  • Develop and use standardized witness instructions
  • Document witness confidence judgements
  • Videotape the witness identification Process

Suggested best practices for courts:

  • Conduct pretrial judicial inquiry whenever witness identification is used
  • Make juries aware of prior identifications
  • Use expert testimony about scientific framework
  • Use jury instructions as an alternative means to convey information about witness identification

Suggestions for the academic community:

  • Establish a national research initiative on eyewitness identification
  • Conduct additional research on system and estimator variables

Read the full report HERE.

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