The Unreliability Of The Eyewitness Essay

2207 words - 9 pages

A defendant’s guilt is often determined in a single moment of fleeting emotion. A pointed finger, accompanied by the solidifying eyewitness statement “He’s the one!” is enough for a jury to make its final decision in a court case. Although it is understandable, when faced opposite of the individual creating the accusation, to place one’s belief in the accusation made, the credibility of the eyewitness’s account of events are rarely taken into consideration. Psychologists have taken part in research that recognizes the unreliable nature of eyewitness statements used to determine guilt because of the instability of long term memory acquisition and because of this, eyewitness accounts of situations should not be used before a jury in court.
It is often said that we have to “see it to believe it.” However, in the case of eyewitnesses, it is not the matter of determining what was seen or the credibility of the spectacle. Instead, it is the act of correctly recalling what was seen that can be a difficult task. In the case of James Bain and many others, it turns out that a pair of” lying eyes” cost them their freedom. When listening to the proceedings of a court case, a jury is often comforted by the thought of an eyewitness being present. The group considers the individual as reliable because the person was present to see all of the events as they happened that day. When listening to a primary source we often think to ourselves, “They must be telling the truth. They were there for the whole thing. Therefore, anything that they say goes.” However, when told that “[eyewitness] identifications prove incorrect about a third of a time” (Liptak), our memories and the memories of others suddenly seem more deceitful than previously thought. There are several factors that lead to the conclusion that eyewitness testimonies are unreliable. The effects of stress and anxiety, reconstructive memory, weapon focus, and leading questions are all factors that cause an eyewitness’s account of a particular situation to become faulty (Mcleod).
When in a stressful situation, it is often easy to see aspects of the situation at hand to be more dramatized than they really are. It is not that eyewitnesses mean to embellish while on the stand, but more so that their psychological state during the event has caused them to remember what really happened differently. This dramatization of a situation’s details, however slightly or largely slanted, can change the way that a jury processes the course of events used to make judgments of the defendant. The distinction between a “large knife” and a “kitchen knife” as well as the contrasting details between a man’s face can make all the difference in a court case and, sometimes, the person being thrown behind bars for life without parole. “Anxiety or stress is almost always associated with real life crimes of violence”, says Jerry L. Deffenbacher, a psychologist specializing in the area of cognition who reviewed 21 studies on stress...

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