he vagaries of eyewitness identification are well known; the
annals of criminal law are rife with instances of mistaken
identification,” noted Justice Brennan in United States v. W
While the criminal justice system necessarily relies heavily on the
testimony of eyewitnesses to develop leads, identify suspects, and
establish the circumstances of a crime,
the malleability of eyewit-
ness testimony has long been of interest to cognitive psychologists.
More than twenty-five years ago University of Washington psychol-
ogist Elizabeth Loftus, a leading contributor to memory research,
published the results of her first experiment demonstrating the
suggestibility of eyewitnesses.
She has continued to conduct
research in many areas of eyewitnesses testimony, including the
controversial area of “repressed” childhood memories.
who have contributed significantly to eyewitness research include
Roy Malpass, who studies how law enforcement procedures
influence eyewitness recall and identification,
Fulero, specializing in the effect of eyewitness testimony on juror
However great these research contributions, they have been slow
to find their way into law enforcement investigative procedures.
Now, almost a quarter century after Loftus published the first
research on the limitations of eyewitness accounts, the United
States Department of Justice has promulgated voluntary guide-
lines for use by law enforcement personnel when gathering
eyewitness evidence, Eyewitness Evidence: A Guide for Law
The guide owes its existence to a 1996 Justice
Department sponsored study, Convicted by Juries, Exonerated by
Science: Case Studies in the Use of DNA Evidence to Establish
Innocence after T
, which identified 28 persons who were
wrongfully convicted largely on the basis of eyewitness testimony.
Disturbed by that report, Attorney General Janet Reno established
a multidisciplinary panel of law enforcement professionals, psy-
chologists, criminologists, prosecutors, and defense attorneys to
recommend law enforcement practices and procedures for col-
lecting and preserving eyewitness evidence.
The guidelines cover the gamut of investigations—from taking
911 calls reporting crimes, obtaining preliminary statements from
and conducting formal interviews with eyewitnesses, preparing
and presenting “mug” books and composite images, conducting
lineups and showups, and preserving records of witness inter-
Though the guidelines vary with each procedure, several
general rules apply.
Investigators should: (1) ask open-ended
questions; (2) refrain from asking leading or suggestive questions;
(3) separate witnesses during interviews and instruct them not to
discuss the details of the incident with other witnesses; (4) cau-
tion witnesses about listening to or reading media reports of the
crime; (5) not disclose that they have identified a suspect; and
(6) encourage witnesses to contact the investigator if they recall