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The Accuracy of Eyewitness Testimony in the Criminal Justice System

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There has been considerable debate worldwide, regarding the accuracy of eyewitness testimony in the criminal justice system. Particularly, arguments have surrounded wrongful convictions that have resulted from incorrect eyewitness evidence (Areh, 2011; Howitt, 2012; Nelson, Laney, Bowman-Fowler, Knowles, Davis & Loftus, 2011). The purpose of this essay is to consider psychological research about the accuracy of eyewitness testimony and its placement in the criminal justice system. Firstly, this essay will define how eyewitnesses and their testimonies are used within the criminal justice system and the current debate surrounding its usage. Secondly, the impact of post-identification feedback will be used to show the affect on the confidence of a witness. Thirdly, studies around gender related differences will show how a witnesses gender can affect memory recall and accuracy. Fourthly, empirical studies will be used to highlight how a psychological experience called change blindness can cause mistakes in eyewitness identification. Finally, the effect of cross-examination will be used to explore the impact on eyewitness accuracy. It will be argued, that eyewitness testimony is not accurate and highly subjective, therefore, the criminal justice system must reduce the impact that eyewitness testimony is allowed to have. Developing better policies and procedures to avoid wrongful convictions by misled judges and jury members can do this.

Eyewitnesses are primarily used by the criminal justice system for investigating and prosecuting crimes, particularly in circumstances where it is the only evidence available (Wells & Olson, 2003). Their testimony is highly regarded as it allows for police, prosecutors, judges and juries to establi...

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...c Bulletin & Review, 5(4), 644-649.

Valentine, T., & Maras, K. (2011). The effect of cross-examination on the accuracy of adult eyewitness testimony. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 25, 554-561. doi: 10.1002/acp.1768

Wells, G. L., & Bradfield, A. L. (1998). “Good, you identified the suspect”: Feedback to eyewitness distorts their reports of the eyewitness experience. Journal of Applied Psychology, 83(3), 360-376.

Wells, G. L., Memon, A., & Penrod, S. D. (2006). Eyewitness evidence: Improving its probative value. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 7(2), 45-75. doi: 10.1111/j.1529-1006.2006.00027.x

Wells, G. L., & Olson, E. A. (2003). Eyewitness testimony. Annual Review of Psychology, 54, 277-295.

Wright, D. B., & Skagerberg, E. M. (2007). Postidentification feedback affects real eyewitnesses. Association for Psychological Science, 18(2), 172-178.
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