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Eyewitness Testimony Reliable if Correctly Gathered.

The Economist February 26th-March 4th 2022 pp77 |Science & technology| The psychology of justice| “First Impressions” “Eyewitness evidence can be more reliable than thought”

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Summary by 2244

Image from The highlighted study by John Wixter suggests that if on first viewing of a lineup, the identification or non-identification is likely correct if the witness is confident of their assessment. After initial viewing of suspect images, subsequent assessments are likely unreliable.

Most of us having read or watched crime and court dramas have, in recent times, come to doubt the reliability of eye-witness testimony. For example “The Innocence Project…of 375 cases of wrongful conviction, for all sorts of crimes, found [that] misidentification of suspects by witnesses was a factor in 70% of them.”

Recently as reported, at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting, John Wixter [UCSD] believes that the pendulum on eyewitness testimony has swung too far against it. His experiments, which have been validated elsewhere, suggest that if on first viewing of lineup photographs the witness is confident then the identification or non-identification is reliable. If not confident of the identification or non-identification then the initial thought is likely wrong.

Based on more of Wixter’s studies, the act of seeing the images for the first time essentially then makes later assessments unreliable. As an analogy, just as the act of handling of DNA evidence initially might contaminate it for future use the mind might be contaminated for future reliable use once the images have been seen for the first time.

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