Our Dangerous Devotion to Eyewitness Testimony

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The human brain is arguably the most complex organ in our body; everyday researchers learn more about the very organ that makes us who we are. Many people think that we control our own minds, but can we? Can we tell ourselves what and who to believe? Do we have the ability to trick own minds into thinking something is correct? How accurate are memories from the human brain?

According to Cornell law professor Michael Dorf, “Studies reveal error rates of as high as fifty percent—a frightening statistic given that many convictions may be based largely or solely on such testimony.” With a statistic so large on a matter so crucial, the errors that come with making a false eyewitness identification should be taken into high consideration if it is the sole reason of conviction. There are handfuls of mistakes committed during the identification line-up including stereotypes, familiarity, revenge, fear, if it is a cross-racial hearing, and if the victim merely guesses just to end the trial.

When individuals are unlawfully charged with a crime they did not commit, their lives are permanently damaged in the present and when/if they get out; further, it affects the lives of the families left behind. With the ability to use DNA and quality technology, eight people on death row were exonerated—the unjustly accused could be or may have been put to a wrongful death they didn’t deserve. Instead of being used to convict, the use of an eyewitness should be used as a tool for guidance. We are always fighting for a just society, but this process is not justifiable. If we have the knowledge and supplies to put the right criminal away, why are we still using false eyewitness identifications to convict individuals?  Our personal freedoms are held in the hands of strangers, afar and closer than we know.


Title: Our Dangerous Devotion to Eyewitness Testimony

Author: Patricia J. Williams
Publication: The Nation

Date:  February 6, 2012

URL: http://www.thenation.com/article/165725/our-dangerous-devotion-eyewitness-testimony

Additional URL: http:www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/dna/photos/eye/text_06.html

Student Researcher: Rebecca Calleja, Santa Rosa Junior College

Faculty Evaluator: Susan Rahman, Santa Rosa Junior College