Why Are Eyewitnesses Wrong

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In 1984 Kirk Bloodsworth was convicted of the rape and murder of a nine-year-old girl and sentenced to the gas chamber an outcome that rested largely on the testimony of five eyewitnesses. One third of these overturned cases rested on the testimony of two or more mistaken eyewitnesses. How could so many eyewitnesses be wrong? Eyewitness identification typically involves selecting the alleged perpetrator from a police lineup, but it can also be based on police sketches and other methods. Soon after selecting a suspect, eyewitnesses are asked to make a formal statement confirming the ID and to try to recall any other details about events surrounding the crime. At the trial, which may be years later, eyewitnesses usually testify in court. Because…show more content…
In addition to educating jurors about the uncertainties surrounding eyewitness testimony, adhering to specific rules for the process of identifying suspects can make that testimony more accurate. The uncritical acceptance of eyewitness accounts may stem from a popular misconception of how memory works. Many people believe that human memory works like a video recorder: the mind records events and then, on cue, plays back an exact replica of them. On the contrary, psychologists have found that memories are reconstructed rather than played back each time we recall them. The act of remembering, says eminent memory researcher and psychologist Elizabeth F. Loftus of the University of California, Irvine, is “more akin to putting puzzle pieces together than retrieving a video recording.” Even questioning by a lawyer can alter the witness’s testimony because fragments of the memory may unknowingly be combined with information provided by the questioner, leading to inaccurate
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