- MEMORY. We know witnesses are often wrong. Usually it's not malicious, it's just that humans make terrible data recorders and memory is not as static as we might hope. Research on the reliability of people's memory with regard to alibis has been going on for a few years.
There was an article in the Economist (June 5, 2021, "Testing alibis is not as straightforward as it seems") where they reported on some recent research that tracked 51 participants going about their regular lives for a month, then waited a week and asked things like "Where were you on august 12th at 8am?". To quote the Economist article: "participants got things wrong about a third of the time, and...these errors were not random. People were more likely to remember events incorrectly if they were similar in time or space than they were if they were not. Specifically, they chose the right day of the week but the wrong week 19 percent of the time, and the right hour of the day but the wrong day 8 percent of the time. ...they were also more likely to make errors when two locations had similar acoustic environments."
A whole issue of Behavioral Science was devoted to the topic a couple years ago
Though as recons we aren't usually chasing alibis, the same memory failures are part of our cases. Just because someone is wrong doesn't mean they are lying.
- This special issue highlights recent developments in the field of alibi research. These include a shift from self-report studies to behavioral paradigms; a broadening in the literature to study not only suspects, investigators, and legal decision makers, but also alibi corroborators; and an expansion of the research to include alibi-related memory issues rather than a sole focus on social impact factors.Additionally, this special issue addresses the many misconceptions that exist when it comes to the appraisal of consistency in the context of alibi accuracy and truthfulness.