Any statement made by an eyewitness, a sworn statement or oath, which is written either on affidavit or paper done in court testimony, is eyewitness testimony. It is the main researching field in human memory and cognitive psychology. Eyewitnesses are only acceptable if the story they tell is consistent, comprehensible, and cohesive. Many psychological factors can affect eyewitness testimony. They are: anxiety stress, weapon focus (focus on the weapon during the event), reconstructive memory (the ability to reconstruct memory), leading questions (asking questions again by inserting certain words).
The advantages and disadvantages of eyewitness testimony signify that it is a main segment of any private cases or criminal justice proceedings.
Advantages of Eyewitness Testimony
- Eyewitness testimony can influence the decision of jury. Witness testimony allows the jury to hear the crime story directly from the person. Then, by having a credible witness take the oath, the jury will be able to determine whether the defendant has committed the alleged crime.
- Eyewitness testimony depicts the sequential picture of events. The testimony of eyewitnesses helps to get the correct sequence of events, which is essential for understanding what happened, why it happened, and who was responsible. This helps the jury and lawyers better understand what the motive might be settle down.
- Eyewitness testimony is seen as evidence in the court. The witness report can prove that the crime actually occurred and can support the criminal case presented to the court. In the absence of DNA and other substantive evidence, the witness statement was considered persuasive and sufficient to implicate the defendant’s evidence. This is especially true when the testimony is obtained immediately after the incident, when the memory is still clear.
- It gives a direct connection to the events in question. Only the witnesses were involved in the series of events that initially prompted the investigation. What they can remember provides investigators with a direct link to what happened, enabling them to determine who was involved.
- It gives supplements and strength to other evidence available. Eyewitness testimony itself can have credibility issues, but when used in combination with other evidence, it can provide the defendant with conclusive evidence and promote judicial justice.
- It validates the early statements written at the beginning. A written statement is taken from eyewitnesses after the crime events which reinforces the memory. This will create a written record of the testimonial for future reference.
- It is used in association with other eyewitnesses. Having multiple people remember their memories of an event helps the audience start to piece together the pieces of the puzzle.
Case Study: Eyewitness Testimony in the Flowers Case
On July 16, 1996 in Winona, Mississippi, four people were shot and killed in a Tardy furniture store. Prosecutor Doug Evans tried six times for the crimes of former Tardy employee Curtis Flowers. According to the prosecutor on the day of the murder, around 7 am, Flowers walked from his home on the west side of the town to the parking lot of a sewing factory on the east side of the town, crossing Highway 51. Flower snatched Doyle Simpson’s gun from the glove box of Doyle’s keyless car and walked back to his home in the west of town. Flowers then walked from his home to Tardy Furniture again to commit the murder, passing an auto repair shop, a dry cleaner, and Highway 51 along the way.
The testimony of at least twelve witnesses helped the theory of the prosecution, with each witness placing Flowers in an inconspicuous part of the route they were to take that day. Most of these witnesses knew Flowers. A careful examination of the testimony of these witnesses revealed some disturbing factors. However later, a man named Roy Harris said he saw a man fleeing the scene and confirmed it was not Flower, who was later identified as another man in the photo.
Disadvantages of Eyewitness Testimony
- Eyewitness testimony can be corrupted and inaccurate. Research has shown that when incorrect events are introduced into a person’s memory, it is often difficult for the person to remember what actually happened and may even recall incorrect or corrupted memories and believe that they are true. Also, the longer the event lasts, the more difficult it will be for people to remember it.
- Eyewitness’s memory is the basis of eyewitness testimony procedure. The problem is that human memory is susceptible to bias, especially when the trigger phrase used by a third party will affect the witness’s better judgment and, more importantly, affect the memory of what actually happened. Also, few people will retell a story in a neutral way, which affects memory.
- It is influenced by personal emotions and causes dishonesty. Witnessing the trauma of crime and the fear of becoming involved in chaos or being the target of retaliation is enough to dilute your description of a trustworthy and honest criminal call. Negative thoughts and emotions and external threats can cause witnesses to hide certain facts or provide false testimony. Stress can also affect a person’s memory.
- It can get the wrong person in jail. When the court decides to testify based on witnesses who have memory problems or are dishonest, the wrong person may be sent to prison. False witnesses can unfairly convict a person and change their lives forever, even if the court’s decision is later overturned.
- It can be changed by buying it from the witness. The testimony of an eyewitness is as reliable as the person who gave it. In order to prevent witnesses from lying about what they saw and heard, the perjury law and the witness tampering law were formulated. This does not prevent some people from bribing witnesses to say specific things.
- It will let the perception changed to reality. Over time, the memory of a particular sequence of events began to fade. These events can be affected by other memories and perceptions. People may think they have seen something because they have seen similar events in movies or TV shows. Adrenaline at this time also affects perception.
Case Study: Trouble with Lydell Grant
Based on the identification of the lineup of six witnesses, Lydell Grant was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2012 for the murder of Texas youth Aaron Scheerhoorn, who was in Houston in 2010 Stabbed outside a nightclub. But the 6 eyewitnesses were wrong. Under the work of the Texas Innocent Project, a new DNA test on biological material collected under the victim’s fingernails cleared Grant and involved another man, Gemari Kokat, who police say admitted to the murder. Carter is now charged with murder by the grand jury and Lydell Grant is released from prison. But the trust in the witnesses was so deep that despite the vast amount of evidence that Grant was innocent, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals initially rejected his request for innocence. Instead, they asked the six witnesses who initially testified for Grant to respond to his claim of innocence. Finally, almost a year later, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that Grant was innocent on May 19, 2021. One might think that Grant is the unfortunate clone of the killer, leading to false testimony.
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To conclude, eyewitness testimony has both advantage and disadvantage and studying about both will let to carefully examine all the faults that may be occurred during the court testimony. Eyewitness testimony is very powerful and convincing to jurors, even though it is not particularly reliable. Identification errors occur, and these errors can lead to people being falsely accused and even convicted. Likewise, eyewitness memory can be corrupted by leading questions, misinterpretations of events, conversations with co-witnesses, and their own expectations for what should have happened. People can even come to remember whole events that never occurred. A number of specific recommendations has already been made, and many of these are in the process of being implemented to improve the accuracy of eyewitness testimony. Eyewitness testimony can be of great value to the legal system, but a decade of research now argues that this testimony is often given far more weight than its accuracy justifies.