In the May issue of Perspectives on Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, leadingscholars in psychology and the law explore and debate variousaspects of eyewitness identification procedures, providing ascientific foundation for this important social issue. In recent years, researchers and policymakers have called forspecific reforms to eyewitness identification procedures that wouldhelp to reduce the rate of false identification. These reformsaffect various aspects of identification procedure, including howlineups are constructed, what witnesses are told prior to thelineup, and how police officers should behave during the procedure. Such procedural reforms are often viewed as having 'no cost' --they reduce the false identification rate without affecting thecorrect identification rate. |
But psychological scientist StevenClark (University of California, Riverside) argues that 'no cost'view may not actually be true. After extensive review of theexisting data, Clark points out the paradoxical tradeoffs toreforms in eyewitness identification procedure. Existing datasuggest that when we choose to enact reforms that are designed toreduce false identifications, we may also reduce the number ofcorrect identifications at the same time. But this tradeoff does not tell the whole story, say Gary Wells(Iowa State University), Nancy Steblay (Augsburg College), andJennifer Dysart (John Jay College of Criminal Justice). Whilereform procedures may reduce the number of 'hits,' they do so byminimizing the influence of suggestive and coercive practices, suchas biased instructions and cues from lineup administrators.
Wellsand his co-authors argue that the so-called 'lost' hits aren'tactually relevant, because hits that result from suggestivepractices are not legitimate identifications. Eryn Newman fromVictoria University of Wellington and Elizabeth Loftus from theUniversity of California, Irvine agree, arguing that eyewitnessidentification evidence should be based solely on the independentmemory of the witness, not on the results of suggestive or coerciveprocedures. There is, however, a scientifically valid way to comparewitness-identification procedures, say John Wixted and LauraMickes, both of the University of California, San Diego. If weidentify the procedures that reliably differentiate betweeninnocent and guilty suspects over time and across differentsituations, we will be able to determine which techniques arediagnostically superior to others.
Until we have such comprehensive data, the best way to protectinnocent defendants, says Larry Laudan of the University of Texas,is by clearly communicating the fact that eyewitnessidentifications, regardless of their format, are fallible.According to Laudan, we now have enough empirical data to be ableto inform jurors about the error profiles of various eyewitnessidentification procedures. Sharing this information, he argues, ismore important than trying to arrive at "the one unique anddefinitive format for conducting identifications." In the end, Clark points out that the goal of his article is not toargue for or against any particular witness identificationprocedure. Rather, he hopes to create strong links between socialscience data and public policy. "To the extent that socialscience research has a useful role in shaping policydecisions," says Clark, "social scientists must do forpolicymakers what they do best and what policymakers cannot do forthemselves: conduct careful studies, and provide a clear andcomplete analysis of the empirical data." Steven E. Clark et al.
"Costs and Benefits of EyewitnessIdentification Reform: Psychological Science and PublicPolicy," Perspectives on Psychological Science , May 2012 Nancy K. Steblay et al., "Eyewitness Identification Reforms:Are Suggestiveness-Induced Hits and Guesses True Hits?" Perspectives on Psychological Science , May 2012 Elizabeth F. Loftus et al., "Clarkian Logic on Trial," Perspectives on Psychological Science , May 2012 John T. Wixted et al., "The Field of Eyewitness Memory ShouldAbandon Probative Value and Embrace Receiver OperatingCharacteristic Analysis," Perspectives on Psychological Science , May 2012 Larry Laudan et al.
"Eyewitness Identifications: One MoreLesson on the Costs of Excluding Relevant Evidence," Perspectives on Psychological Science , May 2012.
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