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The Effect of Cross-Examination on Eyewitness Testimony

Cross-examination increases the likelihood of eyewitness error. Preceding research indicates that while being cross-examined children alter a lot of their originally correct responses. An experiment conducted by Maras & Valentine (2011) describes in which the result of cross-examination on accurateness of adult eyewitness testimony was explored.

There were twenty-two student participants who were placed into a co-witness condition, which resulted in memory agreement and recalled less accurately than witnesses in the control condition or individual condition. Following a 4 week postponement all participants were cross-examined by a trainee barrister, similar to a prosecutor.

Subsequently there was no difference in accurateness among the two experimental groups with regard to cross-examination. Witnesses in both conditions made numerous alterations to their preceding reports by changing both originally accurate and inaccurate responses.

According to Elizabeth Loftus, a leading expert on human memory, eyewitness memory as, “a person’s episodic memory for a crime or other dramatic event that he or she has witnessed.” Often times there is a significant amount of emphasis with regard to the accuracy of an eyewitness because erroneous eyewitness testimony can have a severe outcome such as wrongful incarceration.

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Eyewitness testimony is the evidence provided in court by a person who witnessed a crime, with a view to identifying the perpetrator.

Eyewitness testimony is a compelling device used within the realm of the criminal justice system, because it is a promptly conventional type of substantiation of the facts that sanction guilty verdicts. It is without doubt that eyewitnesses to a crime are one of the most important people to the police when trying to get a conviction but we must remember that sometimes they can be un-reliable.

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However an extensive amount of research has confirmed that eyewitness memory can be exceedingly plastic.

The memory of an eyewitness can be distorted by suggestive information attained after the pertinent episode was observed (Loftus & Hoffman, 1989; Wright & Loftus, 1998), by the method of inquiry that a witness experiences (Loftus & Palmer, 1974; Loftus & Zanni, 1975) or by a constant bombardment of questions (Odinot, Walters, & Lavender, 2009). Evidence has shown that eyewitnesses have also been prejudiced by ambiguous information attained during inquiry (Loftus, Miller, & Burns, 1978) or dialogue with a co-witness (Gabbert, Memon, & Allen, 2003). Maras & Valentine (2011) pointed out that the cognitive interview was developed to avoid memory distortion and elicit accurate information from the eyewitness.

Maras & Valentine (2011) indicate that there has been a vast quantity of investigation regarding interviewing of eyewitnesses there has been comparatively modest exploration on the results of the cross-examination in court on the dependability of eyewitness testimony. The method of questioning generally used in cross-examination include question formats that can regulate the comprehensiveness and accurateness of the answer; including leading questions, use of negatives, closed questions, either/or questions, yes/no questions and multiple questions (Kebbell, Deprez, & Wagstaff, 2003; Kebbell, Hatton, & Johnson, 2004; Perry, McAuliff, Tam, Claycomb, Dostal, & Flanagan, 1995; Zajac, Gross, & Hayne, 2003).

According to Maras & Valentine (2011) there are a number of essential discrepancies between an investigative interview and cross-examination. The authors also specify a large amount research presumes that the interview being conducted is with a cooperative witness who is trying to recollect as truthfully as possible. In a characteristic study project, deceptive details are initiated in a small fraction of questions in a post event questionnaire or interview. In comparison, cross-examination is expected to comprise of effective persuasion and an effort to deteriorate the witness’ self-assurance.

It is possible for a witness to face straightforward defiance to the accurateness of their report, and have a supplementary explanation put to them. Moreover, cross-examination may possibly be anticipated to be unfavorable to a witness testimony as a result of aspects which we know enhance a witnesses’ impressionability, such as a an extended postponement between witnessing the event and cross-examination (Read, Connolly, Toglia, Ross, & Lindsay, 2007) and the professed prominent standing and influence of the cross-examiner (Roper & Shewan, 2002). The question arises of whether the effect is due to the vulnerability of children’s testimony or whether cross-examination would adversely affect the accuracy of adult eyewitness testimony.

Coxon, P., & Valentine, T. (1997). The effects of age of eyewitnesses on the accuracy and suggestibility of their testimony. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 11, 415–430. Gabbert, F., Memon, A., & Allan, K. (2003). Memory conformity: Can eyewitnesses influence each other’s memories for an event? Applied Cognitive Psychology, 17, 533–543. Gabbert, F., Memon, A., & Wright, D. B. (2006). Memory conformity: Disentangling the steps toward influence during a discussion. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 13, 480–485. Holliday, R. E., Brainerd, C. J., Reyna, V. E.,& Humphries, J. E. (2009). The cognitive interview: Research and practice across the lifespan. In R. Bull, T. Valentine, & T. Williamson (Eds.), Handbook of psychology of investigative interviewing: Current developments and future directions. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell. (pp. 137–160). Kebbell, M. R., Deprez, S., & Wagstaff, G. F. (2003). The direct and cross-examination of complainants and defendants in rape trials: A quantitative analysis of question type. Psychology, Crime & Law, 9, 49–59. Kebbell, M. R., Hatton, C., & Johnson, S. D. (2004). Witnesses with intellectual disabilities in court: What questions are asked and what influence do they have? Legal and Criminological Psychology, 9, 23–35. Loftus, E. F., & Hoffman, H.G. (1989).Misinformation and memory: The creation

of new memories. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 1, 100–104. Loftus, E. F., & Palmer, J. C. (1974). Reconstructions of automobile destruction: An example of the interaction between language and memory. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 13, 585–589. Loftus, E., & Zanni, G. (1975). Eyewitness testimony: The influence of wording of a question. Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society, 5, 86–88. Loftus, E. F., Miller, D. G., & Burns, H. J. (1978). Semantic integration ofverbal information into a visual memory. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Learning & Memory, 4, 19–31. Moses, R. (2001). Cross-examination in criminal cases. http://criminaldefense. [2/12/2009].
Odinot, G.,Wolters, G., & Lavender, T. (2009). Repeated partial eyewitness questioning causes confidence inflation but not retrieval-induced forgetting. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 23, 90–97. Patterson, H. M., & Kemp, R. I. (2006). Comparing methods of encountering post-event information: The power of co-witness discussion. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 20, 1–17. Perry, N. W., McAuliff, B. D., Tam, P., Claycomb, L., Dostal, C., & Flanagan, C. (1995). When lawyers question children. Is justice served?

Law and Human Behavior, 19, 609–629. Read, J. D., Connolly, D. A., Toglia, M. P., Ross, D. F., & Lindsay, R. C. L. (2007). The effects of delay on long-term memory for witnessed events. In the handbook of eyewitness psychology: Memory for events, Vol. I (pp. 117–155). Mahwah, NJ, US: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers. Roper, R., & Shewan, D. (2002). Compliance and eyewitness testimony: Do eyewitnesses comply with misleading ’expert pressure’ during investigative interviewing? Legal and Criminological Psychology, 7, 155–163. Schooler, J. W., & Loftus, E. F. (1986). Individual differences and experimentation:

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Stone, A. A. (1988). Psychiatry and the Law. In A. M. Nicholi The new Harvard guide to psychiatry (pp. 797–827). Cambridge, MA, England: Belknap Press. Valentine, T. & Maras, K. (2011). The effect of cross-examination on the accuracy of adult eyewitness testimony. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 25, 554–561. Wright, D. B., & Loftus, E. F. (1998). How misinformation alters memories. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 71, 155–164. Wright, D. B., & Stroud, J. (1998). Memory quality and misinformation for peripheral and central objects. Legal and Criminological Psychology, 3, 273–286. Zajac, R., & Hayne, H. (2003). I don’t think that’s what really happened: The effect of cross-examination on the accuracy of children’s reports. Journal of Experimental Psychology, Applied, 9, 187–195. Zajac, R., & Hayne, H. (2006). The negative effect of cross-examination style on questioning on children’s accuracy: Older children are not immune. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 20, 3–16. Zajac, R., Gross, J., & Hayne, H. (2003). Asked and answered: Questioning children in the courtroom. Psychiatry, Psychology and Law, 10, 199–209.

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The Effect of Cross-Examination on Eyewitness Testimony. (2016, May 19). Retrieved from

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