Exposing Coercive Influences in the Criminal Justice System
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Around the beginning of the 1970s, social and behavioral scientists began conducting systematic research on issues related to the accuracy of eyewitnesses in recounting details observed during the commission of a crime. Twenty-five years later, more than 2,000 scientific articles in psychology demonstrated that eyewitness accounts were susceptible to a variety of influences that could potentially render them unreliable (Cutler & Penrod, 1995). For example, Loftus (1979) showed that eyewitness memory was malleable and could be readily altered by information encountered after the initial event. Work by Lindsay and Wells (1985) established that the manner in which police lineups were conducted greatly impacted the number of mistaken identifications made by eyewitnesses. The weight of three decades of such research, in combination with other factors, has recently prompted the legal system to take action in an attempt to prevent erroneous eyewitness testimony from influencing trial outcomes (Wells et al., 2000). Specifically, the United States Department of Justice, with the input of psychological researchers, has translated the scientific literature on eyewitness reports into a first ever set of national guidelines for the collection and preservation of eyewitness evidence (Technical Working Group for Eyewitness Evidence, 1999).
KeywordsEyewitness Identification Police Interrogation Sequential Lineup Wrongful Conviction False Confession
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