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To what extent has research shown eyewitness testimony to be inaccurate?

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Introduction

To what extent has research shown eyewitness testimony to be inaccurate? Eyewitness testimony is the evidence provided in court by a person who witnessed a crime, with a view to identifying the perpetrator. The accuracy of eyewitness recall may be affected during initial encoding, subsequent storage and eventual retrieval. There are three stages of 'eyewitness memory'; encoding, retention and retrieval. Throughout these stages the memory is distorted, lost, modified, interfered with and reconstructed. Elizabeth Loftus has conducted many studies concerning eye witness testimony - one in which she worked with Palmer (1974) to see if leading questions distort the eyewitness's immediate recall. ...read more.

Middle

These findings tell us that a leading question can greatly affect the witness's answer. It also shows that eyewitnesses are easily influenced by just one word. Other factors influencing eyewitness memory include the extreme level of stress in the situation, the presence of a weapon, the length of time that the person sees the perpetrator, whether it was dark, the way witnesses might talk to one another after the event, possible influence by media reports and the race of the witness and perpetrator. Many studies have now found that there is an average of about 15 percent difference between the accuracy rates of identifying people of your own race compared with identifying people of a different race. ...read more.

Conclusion

Even with all the potential margins for error, eyewitness testimony can still make or break a case. Studies show that eyewitness testimony is the most unreliable evidence you could possibly have, but in court it is probably the strongest evidence you could possibly present. Although most of the research provided on eyewitness testimony comes to the conclusion of it being unreliable and fallible, there is other research by psychologists such as Geiselman et al (1985), who have found ways eg cognitive interview, to give accurate memory recall and greatly improve the accuracy of eyewitness testimony. From the evidence presented I can come to the conclusion that even though eyewitness testimony is initially unreliable, using new interview techniques, based on proven psychological principles, can produce detailed and accurate information from the eye witness's memory. ...read more.

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