Eyewitness Testimony and Evidence in Criminal Case

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Eyewitness testimony plays a crucial role and is an influential source of evidence in criminal cases and in the courtroom, in providing first-hand accounts to an event to allow the jury and judge to choose the guilt of a defendant (Kebbell & Milne, 1998). The inaccuracy of eyewitness testimonies and identifications is often mentioned as the principal cause of wrongful convictions of the innocent (Pezdek, 2012). It is important for the jury to understand what factors make eyewitnesses more or less accurate when recalling details of a crime. There are three main stages of eyewitness memory; acquisition, storage, and retrieval; Witnessing, delay, and statement.

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The defendant is Leo Collins, a 23-year-old Afro-Caribbean man with short dark hair (now and at time of offence). He also has green eyes. He is 6ft 3’, has a medium build and no tattoos, piercings or distinguishing features. Mr. Collins is known to police and has been arrested on previous occasions. On Saturday 9th January 2018 at 7:55pm, Mrs. Patel was closing the All Hours convenience store. The main shop lights were turned off, with only a small security light that was on behind the counter. Mrs. Patel was turning the coffee machine off at the coffee station as she had her back to the door. The shop door then burst open and a man ran in holding a knife and grabbing Mrs. Patel from behind. 

Mrs. Patel’ glasses were knocked off and she was forced behind the counter. The man stood behind her and twisted her arm behind her back and was holding the knife to her throat. Mrs. Patel was ordered to lie on the ground, face down and not to move for five minutes. Mrs. Patel describes the man as black, about 20 years old and 6ft tall, wearing a hooded grey top with the hood up, and black trousers. She said the man was medium to large build and had short spiky hair.

On January 21st, Mrs Patel was shown books of ‘mug shots’ with nine photographs on each page, taking her time to study the pictures and identified Mr Leo Collins. On January 26th, Mrs Patel was shown a video identity parade consisting of 9 people of similar appearance. She picked out Mr Collins without hesitation and stated, ‘I am absolutely sure that he is the man, I will never forget that face’. The jury should observe the circumstances of the witness’s identifications, including the following; amount of time, distance, visibility, obstruction, time elapsed and error in the description in the suspects appearance (Turbull, 1976).

At the time the crime was committed, there was obscured illumination, as the shops main lights were off, with only a small security light being on. Which can affect the accuracy for recall of the crime (Yarmey, 1896). Mrs. Patel is short-sighted and in the struggle her glasses were knocked off, and Mrs. Patel was always face back to the perpetrator, meaning that Mrs Patel’s capacity of getting a clear view of the perpetrator was diminished.

During a crime, it is likely eyewitnesses will experience quite high levels of stress. High levels of arousal experienced during a violent event can negatively impact an eyewitness’s memory of the crime (Morgan et al., 2004). This can also be found in many studies such as Deffenbacher, Bornstien, Penrod and MecGorty (2004) study in ‘A meta-analytic review of the effects of high stress on eyewitness memory’. In this study they found that ‘there was considerable support for the hypothesis that high levels of stress negatively impact both types of eyewitness memory’. 

Eastbrook (1959) found that increased emotional arousal, such as stress, relates to a decrease in a variety of task-relevant cues to which the eyewitness attends. Mrs. Patel was in the middle of a normal activity of closing her shop, suddenly she is held from behind, and is having a knife held at her. She is in the dark and is alone, this would mean that her stress levels would have suddenly elevated. Under the stress, Mrs Patel could have responded to this with a freeze response, and the hormones released during this can affect the part of the brain that is responsible for memory (capacity to encode the event, and to retrieve the information accurately) (de Quervain, Roozendaal & McDaugh, 1998) (Kuhlmann, 2005). This can also impact her capacity to recall the event accurately.

In Siegal and Loftus (1978) study of ‘Impact of anxiety and life stress upon eyewitness testimony’ have found that the presence of a weapon has shown that it can turn away the eyewitness’s attention away from the appearance of the offender, as suggested by Eastbrook (1959). The highly stressed victim may not be vigilant on the important indications, resulting in the reducing of the quality in descriptions provided by witnesses. As the weapon was held against her neck, she would have only focused on that weapon. There are studies that support the notion that older adults may be less accurate due to declines in encoding value, which are age related. Older witnesses are likely to not remember a lot of details about an event that has occurred, recalling less precise details (Naveh-Benjamin & Kilb, 2014).

Mrs. Patel was shown mugshots of potential suspects. A number of studies such as Memon, Hope, Bartlett and Bull’s (2002) study in ‘Eyewitness recognition errors: The effects of mugshot viewing and choosing in young and old adults’ has shown that previous exposure to the suspects can increase mistaken identifications of an innocent person. She was also shown a video identity parade. Trying to identify the perpetrator can be stressful due to the formal and strange environment the witness is put in. 

The witnesses/victim may feel pressured to identify someone from the mugshots. Deffebacher, Bornstein and Penrod’s (2006) study in ‘Mugshot Exposure Effects’, it was found that ‘mugshot exposure increased the false alarm rate, the effect being greater on false alarms’. It was also found that a ‘mugshot commitment effect, resulting from the identification of someone in a mugshot, ia a substantion moderator of both effects’. Commitment to the prior selection ‘were the cause of lineup errors’ (Goodsell, Neuschatz & Gronlund, 2009).

Mrs Patel seems confident in picking Mr Leo Collins from the mugshots and identity parade, ‘I am absolutely sure that he is the man, I will never forget that face’. Although there is research that have found highly confident witnesses are more expected to be accurate in identifications, eyewitness confidence is commonly an unreliable indicator of accuracy (Wixted & Wells, 2017). Familiarity can also develop due to repeated viewing, after a witness views mugshots and video identity parades that include the innocent suspect.

The delay between the witnessed event and the identification task, a witness’s memory is prone to delay, and it is also vulnerable of the influence of post-event information from a variety of sources (Crighton & Towl, 2015). This factor has shown to compromise recall and accuracy (Gabbert, Memon & Allan, 2003). The eyewitness’ Mark and Jonny Hooper and the victim Mrs Patel may have had a discussion about what they saw when the witnesses ran over to Mrs Patel’s aid. Through a discussion, witnesses may learn information about the event they did not actually witness for themselves, by a co-witness, and then including this information (or creating new memories) can be difficult for justice. This is also known as the misinformation effect (Loftus & Hoffman, 1989).

Mr. Mark Hooper and his son Mr Jonny Hooper were sitting smoking outside the Fox bar on Belton Road. In the afternoon they had been watching football and had drunk 5 pints of Stella (strong lager). They heard a scream and were looked towards the All Hours convenience store and saw a man running out of the store carrying a Sainsbury’s carrier bag in one hand, and a knife in the other, running along Belton Road towards the alley way. Mark and Jonny Hooper ran into the store finding Mrs. Patel lying on the floor. Mark Hooper called the police and both men waited with Mrs. Patel until police arrived.

Mark Hooper is a 45-year-old white man. He describes the offender as a black man aged between 16 – 20. Approximately 6ft tall and a medium build. He stated that the offender was wearing dark clothes and a dark grey hoodie with the hood up. Mark Hooper also identified Leo Collins from the spread of mugshots on the 14th of Jan, and from a video identity parade on the 20th of Jan.

Jonny Hooper is a 25-year-old man and is the son of Mark Hooper. Jonny Hooper is also white British. He has a mild learning disability and a slightly lower than average IQ. Jonny Hooper describes the offender as a black man who was about the same age as him, that he was tall, well over 6ft. He said that the offender was wearing a dark hoodie and dark Adidas tracksuit trousers. Jonny Hooper was shown the video identity parade on January 20th but said he could not see the man who committed the robbery.

The only eyewitnesses that had consumed alcohol before the event were Mark and Jonny Hooper. Alcohol interferes with the capacity to form new long-term memories and interferes with the capacity to keep new information active in the memory (White, 2003). Research has shown that alcohol can disrupt the storage (encoding) of the information, and the retrieval (identification) processes (La Rooy, Nicol & Terry, 2013). Mark and Jonny Hooper had both been drinking 5 pints each of strong lager (Stella). 

In Yuille and Tollestrup’s (1990) study of ‘Some effects of alcohol on eyewitness memory’, they found that alcohol had a detrimental effect on recall of a staged crime event. The alcohol myopia theory shows that intoxication can affect an individual’s attention and encoding. The recommended units of alcohol per day for males is no more than 3-4. Mark and Jonny Hooper had 5 pints of lager each, resulting in 14.75 units between them, this is over the recommended alcohol intake for a day. Alcohol can increase the rate of false identifications (Yuille & Tollestrup, 1990).

There are many studies that suggest that witnesses with intellectual disabilities have much poorer memory and is more suggestible, however has made as many correct identifications as those who did not have intellectual disabilities (Ericson & Isaacs, 2003) Mr Hooper did not see the perpetrator in the video identity parade.

Mark and Jonny Hooper were both out relaxing whilst drinking alcohol. Upon hearing the screams of Mrs Patel, they were suddenly on high alert which would be stressful. This could impact on their capacity to recall events accurately. Young adults are suggested that, out of all age groups, they show the most the dependable memories (Naveh-Benjamin & Kilb, 2014). Jonny Hooper is younger than Mark Hooper, and he made a more concise guess of the age of the perpetrator. It has also been suggested that older adults are susceptible to misinformation because they recall the main incident more poorly (Mueller-Johnson & Ceci, 2004).

Mark and Jonny Hooper were outside smoking. They would have been able to see the perpetrator run past The Fox Bar which they were sitting outside of. It would have been dark outside at that time, and the only light they probably only had was from inside the pub, shining out. As mentioned with Mrs Patel, there was obscured illumination, which can affect the accuracy for recall of the crime (Yarmey, 1896). Their visibility may have also been altered as they have been drinking alcohol, and went over the recommended drinking limit for a day.

Daisy Morgan is a 10-year-old British Afro-Caribbean girl. Daisy Morgan was standing outside the Dance School on Duke’s Road. She did not see the incident and unaware a crime had occurred. Her attention was on a man who ran around the corner, then suddenly slowed down and walked slowly past her. She thought this was odd and watched him walk towards her under security light. The man continued walking down Duke’s Street, then turned left on Earl’s Road.

She was interviewed by police officers trained in the ‘Achieving Best Evidence’ interview technique. She reported there was a security light mounted on the wall above the Dance School entrance on Duke’s Road where she was waiting. She said her attention was drawn to the man because he ran round the corner of the alleyway, but then suddenly stopped and started walking really calmly. She describes the offender as a black man, who was about 25 years old, and less than 6 foot. She said the man had a black earring in his right ear and had hair that was longish like the footballer Deli Ali. She said the man was wearing a dark green Adidas hoodie with the hood up and black Adidas track suit bottoms. She doesn’t remember the shoes. On January 14th of Jan, she was shown mugshots of known offenders, one at a time. She said ‘no’ straight away to each photo, didn’t pick out anyone from the mugshots, and identity parade which was on the 20th. All which included Mr Collins’ mugshot and in the video parade.

Daisy is 10 years old, and from Piaget’s (1936) theory of cognitive development, she is in the Concrete Operational Stage. This is the third stage which lasts around 7 to 10 years of age, and it is the development of organised and rational thinking. The child is mature enough to ‘use logical thought or operations’. This stage is also important in interview situations. There are many studies that suggest that older children can recall accurate information, they are just as reliable and accurate as adults (Knutsson & Allwood, 2014).

The interview technique that was used for Daisy was the ABE (Achieving Best Evidence) technique. This technique was able to reduce Daisy’s evidence being able to be influenced by the person asking questions or contaminated. Daisy seemed to be the only one to get a clear view of the perpetrators she was able to observe the individual for a period of time and giving a more detailed description and a picture she drew. The length of time an eyewitness has to observe a face affects their capacity to recognise that same face, this is commonly known as study time or exposure (MacLin, MacLin & Malpass, 2001). 

In Reynolds and Pezdek’s (1992) study in ‘Face Recognition Memory’, they found that the longer an eyewitness had to view a face, the better their performance on following recognition tasks. In the photo Daisy drew, it is seen that the perpetrator has light brown eyes. Mr Collins has green eyes. The security lights that pointed towards where Daisy was standing when the perpetrator walked slowly past her, also gave Daisy more of a chance to study the perpetrators appearance and face, than the victim and the other witnesses. This is also evident as she was able to see the perpetrator has an ear piercing on the right ear. Mr Collins doesn’t have any piercings.

The cross-race effect is the phenomenon whereby people are better at recognising people of their own race as compared with those of other races (MacLin, MacLin & Malpass, 2001). In Platz and Hosch (1988) study of ‘Cross-Racial/Ethnic Eyewitness Identification’, they found that the Hispanic participants were better at recognising their own race faces than Black faces by a scale of 39%. Daisy is Afro-Caribbean, the same as Mr. Collins. This can have an effect for daisy to recognise features of the perpetrator more than other eyewitnesses to an extent. Daisy was standing alone quality waiting, when all of a sudden, the perpetrator comes running out of the alleyway and then suddenly walks at a normal rate. This may have cause her to become mildly stressed and alert, focusing on the individual, as seen in The Yerkes-Dodson Law (Deffenbacher, 1983).

In conclusion, there are many factors have shown how easily memory can be distorted, which can have a negative impact on an eyewitness’s testimony. Given all the above relevance of the factors of each eyewitness testimony, I believe that Daisy Morgan is the most accurate and reliable as she had a clear view of the perpetrator, she had time to examine him and his appearance. She wasn’t highly stressed as the other witness’s and the victim. Jonny and Mark Hooper are 2nd most reliable as they were able to see what the perpetrator was wearing, and the type of bag and weapon the perpetrator had, however there are still factors that question their accuracy. The 3rd most reliable is Mrs. Patel, because she did not actually see the perpetrator, was in high stress and many other factors that can negatively impact the eyewitness testimony. 

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