Next Step in Better Witness IDs: Take Science to Police Station


In the New York Times’ “Room for Debate” feature, a prosecutor and four professors weigh in on the Supreme Court of New Jersey’s ruling last week telling judges to proceed with caution when a case hinges on a witness's memory. Amy Bradfield Douglass, an associate professor of psychology at Bates College, said judicial interventions “do nothing to prevent mistaken identifications, only mistaken convictions. The next logical step is to improve police procedures using science-based recommendations to avoid even prosecuting innocent suspects.”

She continued, “These changes will spare judges and juries from confronting the extremely difficult task of evaluating an eyewitness's identification. This is especially important because jurors are not very good at understanding judicial instructions or applying them appropriately. For their part, judges do not always have a firm grasp on the relevant empirical literature and rarely choose the “ultimate sanction” of suppressing the eyewitness's identification. Taking psychological science to the police station itself will further protect innocent suspects from wrongful prosecution.”

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