Home Eyewitness Testimony

Eyewitness Testimony

Eyewitness: a person who actually sees some act, occurrence, or thing and can give a firsthand account of it.

Eyewitness testimony is one of  the most powerful tools used by prosecutors to secure convictions. Eyewitness testimony is also the leading cause of wrongful convictions, playing a role in more than 75% of convictions that were later overturned through DNA testing.

Eyewitness testimony is viewed by many jurors as reliable but unfortunately that is not always the case. We see the world as we want to see it and we often miss details that happen right in front of our eyes. Human error plays a major factor when we are asked to remember specific events. Do you think you would make a good eyewitness? Click here to take the selective attention test.

Why do eyewitnesses make mistakes?

  • Distance from the perpetrator
  • Lighting conditions
  • Race of the witness and race of the perpetrator  (identifications have proven to be less accurate when witnesses are identifying perpetrators of a different race)
  • Presence of a weapon during the incident
  • Stress

Featured Article

What you see isn’t always what you get – The fallacy of eyewitness testimony By Matthew Douglas

Featured Cases of Misidentification

David Dowaliby was wrongfully convicted of murder based solely on eyewitness testimony

Photo ID: Family changes standard for conducting lineups

Fixing the System

Fixing the System: Eyewitness Identification

Police Testimony

Hillsboro police and Force Science Institute hold traffic stop study on officer memory, safety

Cops more forgetful after chases or altercations

Resources

Eyewitness Evidence: A Guide for Law Enforcement – U.S. Department of Justice (1999). Explore the eyewitness identification guidelines recommended for use by law enforcement officials by a group of 34 seasoned professionals in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Justice.

Iowa State University: Can Eyewitnesses Correct for External Influences on Their Lineup Identifications? The Actual/Counterfactual Assessment Paradigm

Eyewitness Identifications: Systemic Reforms – (Gary L. Wells) Wisconsin Law Review, Vol. 2006, p. 2.

Frontline: What Jennifer Saw – PBS Frontline. Explore a PBS series special report examining how eyewitness error contributes to wrongful convictions.

Innocence Project report on lineups and eyewitness identification

The Eyewitness Identification Reform Litigation Network

Eyewitness identification expert Prof. Gary Wells of Iowa State University

Attacking Eyewitness Identification Testimony