Eyewitnesses are people who are present and observe the crime or event taking place. Before the discovery of DNA and forensic testing, most of the accusations in court were made by the eyewitnesses. But even now-a-days, the statement of an eyewitness is taken into first consideration when there is no forensic evidence available; it makes the case a lot harder to convict the criminal as eyewitnesses cannot be trusted in most occasions. There are three main psychological reasons for this judgement of mine; these reasons are attention, retention and reproduction. Attention relates to how much attention a person pays attention towards some particular on-going situation taking place in their surroundings. Usually people do not pay attention little details that take place around them such as face, ethnicity, height, figure, placement, etc. as their minds are more occupied by the outcome of the event or failing to notice as the event takes place too quickly.
As an example I would like to set a situation where a gas station is robbed. A masked criminal enters the gas station armed with a gun and points at the clerk demanding him to take out all the cash out of the register. The clerk will be staring at the gun and in response to his demand will start handing out the cash from the register. He will not be in the state to notice the robber’s height, figure, ethnicity and clothing making him a terrible eyewitness to the robbery. Even though people claim to be good eyewitnesses, ‘The Innocence Project’ was able to determine that 72% of 239 cases had inaccurate eyewitnesses (Salzberg, 2012). The second reason, which is retention, is the stored mental image of what a person experiences from a certain event. This mental image that they store may or may not be fully accurate due to the influence of the environment around them. Relating to the above example, retention is the details of the robber that the clerk holds.
This memory may not be accurate since he was not able to pay full attention to the descriptions of the robber. There would be a conflict of descriptions provided by the clerk and a possible customer who was present inside the gas station as he was able to pay full attention to what was going on. In most cases, bystanders are better eyewitnesses than the victims themselves. Retention is responding to by converting the mental images or experience. Not everyone has an eidetic memory or the ability to retell an event the way it has taken place. Also people tend to give biased responses when they are in strain and pressure therefore, a lot of details are left out or seem different when they are trying to recollect their memories, and that’s when there is a conflict of testimonial from eyewitness to eyewitness. If I was a police officer I would try and make two certain changes in how the eyewitnesses are told to identify suspects.
Firstly, the eyewitnesses should be made comfortable when told to identify the suspect. S/he should be informed that the individuals that will come in front of them may not include the real suspect and that ‘none of them’ will be considered as a valid answer. Secondly, instead of the line-up system that is common in identification system here in the USA, each individual should be revealed to the eyewitness one by one, so that they can take their time and feel stress free. It will help them in identifying the right suspect. I strongly believe that these changes will bring increase accuracy of eyewitness testimonial. Long time back children were never called on to give eyewitness testimonials unlike now-a-days, older children are considered an eyewitness as good as adolescents. Older children aged 10-12 have a fully developed brain; the hippocampus in our brain helps us store long term memory.
An older child with a healthy brain can undoubtedly be brought to the stand to give an accurate testimonial or to identify a suspect, but they must be given proper instructions prior to it. Another factor to proper eye-witnessing is the amount of stress involved. An older child may not be under as much as stress as a 40 year old. A 40 year old man may or may not be a reliable source of testimonial. Usually, at the age of 40, the brain can hardly recall detailed memories which do not make them a good eyewitness. They are also prone to become biased under some circumstances. To face the facts, I have a hard time recalling recent events in details which include speech, numbers and time. A memory of mine which is of great importance to me is the day I left my country to study in the USA, which has become really distorted now that I try to recall the details.
I can remember that my family members and friends came to see me off from the airport, but I cannot exactly bring to mind all the people who were there. I cannot remember the last words my mother spoke to me but all I could remember was that she became immensely emotional about me leaving her. On the contrary, I can still vividly remember the first day I met my best friend in class 3. I can still clearly remember what we talked about when we met and where it took place. In conclusion, eyewitnesses cannot be fully trusted to make a full doubtless testimonial. They are easily biased and they also face psychological problems in observing an event and fully recalling it, whereas an older child may prove to be a better eyewitness.
Courtney from Study Moose
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