In every courtroom drama, the most dramatic scene is always when the star witness points her finger at the villain and proclaims that “he did it!” The confidence with which an eyewitness describes the perpetrator of a crime is often the most convincing evidence in a court battle. But how accurate is eyewitness testimony? Do we really remember everything as accurately as we think we do? How important are other influences on eyewitness testimony? And what if the witness is a child?
The criminal justice system relies heavily on eyewitness identification for investigating and prosecuting crimes (Wells & Olson, 2003) because a testimony from an eyewitness is so strong within a case, you would expect the accuracy and reliability of that testimony to be very high. When we look at criminal statistics, we know that most victims know who the offender is, therefore the risk of an innocent misidentification is minimal (Howitt, 2012) It is circumstances where the victim and victimizer are strangers that can cause risk of an innocent misidentification (Howitt, 2012) When discussing the accuracy of an eyewitness testimony one should look at the Cotton case. Ronald Cotton was sentenced to life imprisonment after he was found guilty for rape. The victim and eyewitness, Jennifer Thompson had picked Mr. Cottons picture out of a group of pictures and also identified him in a line up. When the case went to court, when asked who attacked her the night of the incident, Thompson pointed to cotton. Because Jennifer had made such an effort to identify her attacker the night she was attacked, and had chosen Cotton in the lineup, his photo and in the courtroom, the jurors took this testimony as very reliable and accurate evidence. Thus finding Ronald Cotton guilty. After spending over ten years in prison a DNA sample proved the Ronald Cotton was in fact not the rapist and had been wrongfully imprisoned (Wise, Fisherman, Safer. 2009). This definitely raises the question: how accurate is an eyewitness testimony? And should eyewitness testimonies as evidence be removed from the justice system? I personally believe that an eyewitness testimony is not always accurate, made clear by the case above, in saying that, I don’t believe that it should be taken out of the justice system completely. Eyewitness testimonies or evidence may still prove to be helpful within a case however, not be used as the most reliable evidence.
How Accurate is Eyewitness Testimony