How accurate is eyewitness memory?

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MSI
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How accurate is eyewitness memory?

Post by MSI » Tue Aug 11, 2009 9:49 pm

Interesting articles on the accuracy of human memory which can have an enormous impact on the outcome of a trial.
Some quotes for thought from: Witness For the Defense: The Accused, the Eyewitness, and the Expert Who Puts Memory On Trial by Dr. Elizabeth Loftus and Katherine Ketcham, St. Martin's Press, 1991
"Implicit in the acceptance of this testimony as solid evidence is the assumption that the human mind is a precise recorder and storer of events"
"... in fact, human memory is far from perfect or permanent, and forgetfulness is a fact of life"
"Truth and reality, when seen through the filter of our memories, are not objective facts but subjective, interpretive realities. We interpret the past, correcting ourselves, adding bits and pieces, deleting uncomplimentary or disturbing recollections, sweeping, dusting, tidying things up. Thus our representation of the past takes on a living, shifting reality; it is not fixed and immutable, not a place way back there that is preserved in stone, but a living thing that changes shape, expands, shrinks, and expands again, an amoebalike creature with powers to make us laugh, and cry, and clench our fists. Enormous powers--powers even to make us believe in something that never happened."
"...precise memory suddenly becomes crucial in the event of a crime or an accident. Small details assume enormous importance...Was the traffic light red, or was it green? How fast was the Cadillac going when it went through the red light--or was it yellow?--and smashed into the Volkswagen? Did the car cross the center line, or did it stay on its own side? Civil and criminal cases often rest on such subtle, seemingly trivial details, and these details are often hard to obtain."
DISCUSSION
The accuracy of witness testimony, particularly in automobile accidents, must be tested through scientific analysis. For speed estimates, you must check. Police have to be certified to ‘eyeball’ estimate speed for radar certification. Yet sometimes jurisdictions take as accurate a witness statement as to the approximate speed of a vehicle?
If a witness states a vehicle stopped at a light or sign and then proceeded forward, do we take this as a given? NO. We need to test the capabilities of the vehicle 'under normal driving conditions" to determine if the driver COULD have stopped at the light?
As scientists, accident reconstructionists and law enforcement personnel it is our duty to seek the truth through testing and refining estimates and statements given by eyewitness testimony.
Eyewitness testimony is only one piece of the accident reconstruction puzzle and as demonstrated above and in other research, it can be inaccurate as the eyewitnesses may have “subjective interpretive realities” which may include a bias or an effort to help police or other individuals.
It is our DUTY as accident reconstructionists to test the veracity of eyewitness testimony.
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MSI
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Re: How accurate is eyewitness memory?

Post by MSI » Tue Aug 11, 2009 10:17 pm

Some additional links on eyewitness memory:
July 12, 2009: 60 MINUTES: Eyewitness: How Accurate Is Visual Memory?
Transcript of the program
Also from Stanford:
The Problem with Eyewitness Testimony. Commentary on a talk by Fisher & Tversky by Engelhardt html PDF
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brian
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Re: How accurate is eyewitness memory?

Post by brian » Thu Aug 27, 2009 9:33 am

Be sure to also see the 2nd half of the 60 Minutes:Eyewitness, Part 2"So how accurate is eyewitness testimony? As Lesley Stahl found out firsthand, memory is malleable and can easily be influenced and corrupted".
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Re: How accurate is eyewitness memory?

Post by brian » Sat Sep 05, 2009 12:12 pm

Sept 5, 2009: Interesting article in the Sept 7, 2009 The New Yorker Magazine by David Grann entitled "Trial by Fire" that chronicles some major flaws in the criminal justice system related to “eyewitness testimony” and "expert” testimony related to the Willingham case in which “Texas could become the first state to acknowledge officially that, since the advent of the modern judicial system, it had carried out the ‘execution of a legally and factually innocent person’”.
Included in the article is the following:
"Dozens of studies have shown that witnesses’ memories of events often change when they are supplied with new contextual information." Itiel Dror, a cognitive psychologuist who has done extensive research on eyewitness and expert testimony in criminal investigations, told me “The mind is not a passive machine. Once you believe in something – once you expect something – it changes the way you perceive information and the way your memory recalls it
This reinforces the need for objective scientific verification of eyewitness testimony.
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Re: How accurate is eyewitness memory?

Post by MSI » Sat Oct 17, 2009 12:00 pm

Balloon Boy Saga Offers Lesson in Eyewitness Testimony
By Benjamin Radford, LiveScience's Bad Science Columnist
A six-year-old boy named Falcon Heene was thought by many to have been floating alone through Colorado skies on Thursday in a silvery weather balloon created by his inventor father. It turned out that he was safe at home hiding from his parents (so goes one story), but the news caused a media frenzy as many watched the unfolding coverage.
What has been lost in all the finger-pointing and confusion is that a lying (or mistaken) eyewitness was at the root of the concern.
The fact that a large silver balloon flew in the air was, by itself, hardly worth noting. No, what propelled the story to international importance was the first-person eyewitness account of Falcon's brother Brad. According to Sheriff Jim Alderman, police questioned Brad several times about what he had seen shortly before the balloon flew away. "He said he saw his brother climb into that apparatus and he was very adamant, they interviewed him multiple times and that was his consistent story."
At that point the concern became for the safety of the young boy, not an escaped balloon: Had he fallen to his death? Was he still aboard the balloon? He had been abducted? Where was the child?
Police were at first skeptical, but the boy repeated his story and insisted on the truth of what he'd seen. Many people (and journalists) probably thought, "Why would a child lie about something like that?"
Much is often made of first-person eyewitness testimony in our society; some people have even been convicted of crimes based on little more than one person saying, "I saw this happen." But just because a person swears to have personally seen something, and consistently sticks to his or her story, does not mean it's true.
See the Full Story
Another article in an online science journal about Eyewitness Testimony:
Eyewitness Testimony Takes a Few More Hits
Two psychological experiments suggest that eyewitnesses aren’t all that accurate, especially when a confession is involved
By Molika Ashford Posted,01.30.2009, Popular Science

Eyewitness testimony MUST be checked/tested through objective scientific verification.
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brian
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Re: How accurate is eyewitness memory?

Post by brian » Fri Dec 04, 2009 2:23 pm

Dec 2, 2009: More on the Texas Willingham case wherein 'Texas could become the first state to acknowledge officially that, since the advent of the modern judicial system, it had carried out the ‘execution of a legally and factually innocent person’:
Jurors Defend verdict that led to Texas Execution By JEFF CARLTON ,Associated Press
Seems Defense attorney David Martin is sickened by the suggestion that Texas executed an innocent man. The veteran defense attorney represented Willingham at trial. He looked at all the evidence. And he has no doubt that his client deserved to die.
However Fire investigator experts hired first by The Innocence Project and later by the Texas Forensic Science Commission concluded the original finding of arson was seriously flawed. Without that finding, prosecutors have admitted it would have been hard to win a death sentence against Willingham.
Apparently the reports have done nothing to change the minds of Martin and four jurors reached by The Associated Press in recent weeks, who all remain convinced Willingham set the blaze 18 years ago that killed 2-year-old Amber and 1-year-old twins Karmon and Kameron.
In a report released in August, fire expert Craig Beyler, chairman of the London-based International Association for Fire Safety Science, wrote the analysis conducted by Vasquez was "nothing more than a collection of personal beliefs that have nothing to do with science-based fire investigation." Two days before the forensic science commission was to consider the report, Gov. Rick Perry fired three members. The move has delayed the commission's investigation indefinitely and drawn accusations that Perry is trying to cover up a mistaken execution on his watch.
See the Full Story
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brian
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Re: How accurate is eyewitness memory?

Post by brian » Mon Dec 28, 2009 9:11 am

New court ruling about eyewitness IDs delays murder case
Dec 23, 2009: Salt Lake City Tribune: Friday's Utah Supreme Court decision essentially mandating expert testimony about the pitfalls of eyewitness identification has had an immediate impact. A January murder trial for Eugene Christopher Wright was canceled this week because eyewitness testimony is a crucial element of the state's case and the defense needs time to find an expert.
Prior to Friday's court ruling, trial judges routinely banned experts in the science of eyewitness testimony and instead warned jurors about eyewitness fallibility by giving a jury instruction. Judges now will be expected to allow such witnesses so they can explain that eyewitnesses are prone to identifying the wrong person as the perpetrator of a crime, particularly when the person is of a different race.
In addition, "accuracy is significantly affected by factors such as the amount of time the culprit was in view, lighting conditions, use of a disguise, distinctiveness of the culprit's appearance and the presence of a weapon or other distractions," according to the ruling.
See the Full Story
Also see the Utah Supreme Court ruling
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Re: How accurate is eyewitness memory?

Post by MSI » Tue Feb 09, 2010 10:43 am

There is a disconnect...people know they can't remember much detail of events of the past, YET, they put faith in the reliability of eyewitnesses as if BECAUSE something important happened, the 'eyewitness' somehow is better than they are at remembering...
From CBSnew website CBS Poll: What To Believe?
A CBS News Poll, conducted for the 48 Hours broadcast Eyewitness, found that when comparing the reliability of eyewitness testimony to physical evidence more people put faith in physical evidence such as a weapon or blood.
Nearly nine out of 10 Americans think eyewitness testimony used in trials is at least somewhat reliable. However, trust in physical evidence is even stronger. A majority of people say physical evidence is generally reliable, compared to just 22% who say that about eyewitnesses.
eyewit1.jpg
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Faith in eyewitness accounts is not shaken by peoples' experiences with their own memories. Only 7% think eyewitness testimony is definitely not reliable -- despite 42% who say they themselves remember details accurately only some of the time or not at all. In addition, 61% say that if asked to remember what they saw or heard about a week ago, they would recall only some parts of it accurately -- or nothing at all.
When it comes to a direct comparison of the two types of evidence, about half choose physical evidence as more reliable. Still, more than a third think eyewitnesses are just as reliable as physical evidence. One in 10 thinks eyewitnesses are more reliable than physical evidence.
eyewit2.jpg
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However, if physical and eyewitness evidence were to conflict, nearly three out of four people say they would believe the physical evidence. And 60% believe scientific tests, such as DNA or other tests, can prove that a person was present at a crime scene. Younger people are more likely to trust this kind of forensic evidence.
See the Full story
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brian
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Re: How accurate is eyewitness memory?

Post by brian » Thu May 20, 2010 4:45 pm

The Monkey Business Illusion by Daniel Simons. This video was one of the 10 finalists for the Best Illusion of the Year competition in May 2010. It was created as part of an undergraduate seminar course in the spring of 2009.
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