Validity of Eyewitness Testimony

2353 Words Dec 16th, 2006 10 Pages
Validity of Eyewitness Testimony

Validity of Eyewitness Testimony
In today's court system one of the strongest pieces of evidence, or that most commonly accepted as fact by a jury, is eyewitness testimony. When correct, eyewitness accounts can aid in the conviction of many guilty people. However when it is incorrect, eyewitness testimony can do severe damage. Researchers have found that "more innocent citizens are wrongfully tried and convicted on the basis of eyewitness evidence in Great Britain and North America than by any other factor within the legal system" (Smith, Stinson, & Prosser, 2004, p. 146). Even with the recent background of cases being overturned on the basis of DNA evidence many years after conviction, eyewitness
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Studies on the weapon focus effect usually included a weapon's presence or absence during the crime as the independent variable and the individual's later attempt to identify the perpetrator in a lineup as the dependent measure (Steblay, 1992). The researchers hypothesized that correct identifications will be greater in the condition in which the weapon is absent. Steblay (1992) conducted a meta-analytic review of the weapon focus effect which included 19 sets of data. The results show that the data supported the hypothesized weapon focus effect. Therefore, it is important to recognize that "weapon absence or presence is only one of many variables that investigators recognize as influential in lineup identification accuracy" (Steblay, 1992, p.420). Eyewitness testimony can be greatly affected by this phenomenon. If judges and jurors do not consider a weapons effect on eyewitness performance they would be ignoring relevant information.

Cross-Race Facial Identifications
Another factor that can affect the validity of eyewitness testimony is identification in cross-race situations. It has been found that people are better at recognizing faces of persons of their own race than a different race (Loftus, 1979). When the eyewitness is of a different race than the suspect, accuracy rates are lower (Smith, Stinson, & Prosser, 2004). One possible