Ronald Cotton Eyewitness Testimony

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Over the past few decades, hundreds of people have been falsely imprisoned. Many of their cases were founded on the account of one or more eyewitnesses. The criminal justice system often relies on eyewitness accounts to piece together a crime and identify the perpetrator. But studies showing the faultiness of our memories, particularly in stressful events, suggest that witnesses may not be as reliable of a source as we think. An often-cited example of when the memory of an eyewitness has failed to serve justice is the case of Ronald Cotton. In 1984, Jennifer Thompson-Cannino was the victim of breaking and entering and sexual assault. While being raped, Thompson-Cannino attempted to study her attacker’s face so that she could identify him in a police lineup. When she picked Cotton from the photo-lineup of six men, she said, “I think this is the guy” (Hughes 2014). When a detective asked her if she was sure, she said she was positive (Hughes 2014). Based on her identification of Cotton, he was sentenced to life in…show more content…
Unless observed from the onset of the investigation, studies show that the confidence level of the witness has a “poor relationship” with the accuracy of the identification (Stenzel 2017). Because memory can be easily altered and misleading, high levels of confidence do not indicate that the witness has correctly identified the suspect (Stenzel 2017). Initially, Thompson-Cannino identified Cotton, saying, “I think this is him,” but by the time she got to her second round of identifications, she said “Bingo! I did it right!” (Stenzel 2017). Studies show that confidence in the witness’ confidence in their memory increases with time (Hughes 2014). However, there is usually an extended period of time between when the crime took place and the trial, and therefore, the witness’ confidence statement should be given little to no weight in the

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