feb00cassel - Behavioral Science Research Leads to...

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Virginia Lawyer 1 T 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 ade . 1 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, 2 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. 3 She has continued to conduct research in many areas of eyewitnesses testimony, including the controversial area of “repressed” childhood memories. 4 Others who have contributed significantly to eyewitness research include Roy Malpass, who studies how law enforcement procedures influence eyewitness recall and identification, 5 and Solomon Fulero, specializing in the effect of eyewitness testimony on juror decision-making. 6 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 Enfor cement . 7 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 rial 8 , 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. 9 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- views. Though the guidelines vary with each procedure, several general rules apply. 10 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
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This note was uploaded on 01/16/2012 for the course BI 200 taught by Professor Potter during the Fall '11 term at Montgomery College.

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feb00cassel - Behavioral Science Research Leads to...

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