Eye Witness Testimony – Helpful Or Deadly?

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Many trials use eye witness testimony to convict someone of theft, murder and even rape, but how useful are they, and how many innocent people have been imprisoned due to false eye witness testimony?

If a crime occurs and you witness it, you may be called up to the stand to tell the judge what happened, but how reliable is your mind?

Many people go to psychotherapy to deal with problems such as eating disorders or depression, but psychotherapy may be doing more harm than good. The use of techniques such as hypnosis, dream analysis and imagination, implant a memory or thought into the patient’s brain which they believe to be true. An example of this is is when a woman, who was undertaking psychotherapy, came out to say that when she was younger, she was forced into pregnancy and the child extracted from her stomach. This seems vile, but, from the stories we hear in the paper, seems plausible, but the catch is that there was no physical scarring to indicate that this is what really happened. Psychologists later found out that due to the techniques used in her psychotherapy, this memory was false, and that this did not really happen.

How does this tie into eye witness testimony? Well, with the use of leading questions from the police (questions which are phrased in a certain way to make you think/answer it in a certain way) the witness may give false information without actually realising it, therefore imprisoning innocent people. That’s not all, with the use of verbs, police can get answers from the witness that are not true.

Loftus and Palmer’s study on memory shows that with the use of verbs, how the memory of a witness can be changed. They showed a group of students a film of a car accident and then gave them a questionnaire to complete, asking how fast the cars were going when they hit into each other. With other groups, they replaced the verb ‘Hit’ with the verbs smashed, collided, and bumped. They found out that the people with the more severe sounding verbs gave a higher average speed than the people with the verb ‘Hit’. Furthermore, the people with the more severe sounding verb are more likely to say they saw smashed glass than the people who had the word ‘Hit’. This proves, not only that eye witness testimonies can be unreliable, but that the memory of a witness can be manipulated by the police, prosecutor or even the other person’s lawyer.

To conclude, eye witness testimony can be useful when trying to identify the criminal but the reliability is low.

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