Given what you read about misinformation effects, what advice would you give to your local police department if asked to offer recommendations to reduce eyewitness errors? Reference: Reisberg, D. (2018). 7th ed.). New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN: 978-0-393-66508-6 chapter 8
Eyewitness errors can have significant implications for the criminal justice system, potentially leading to wrongful convictions or the failure to identify the actual perpetrator of a crime. As a knowledgeable student familiar with the topic of misinformation effects, I would offer the following recommendations to my local police department to help reduce eyewitness errors:
1. Conduct thorough and unbiased interviews: The initial interview with eyewitnesses is of utmost importance. Law enforcement officials should be trained to conduct thorough and unbiased interviews, allowing witnesses to provide their own account of events without leading or suggestive questioning. This approach helps minimize the risk of introducing false information or biases that can taint the accuracy of their recollection.
2. Use open-ended questions: When interviewing eyewitnesses, it is crucial to ask open-ended questions rather than specific ones. Open-ended questions prompt witnesses to provide their own narrative without being influenced by the interviewer’s assumptions. This approach reduces the likelihood of leading the witness and introducing false memories or information.
3. Document eyewitness confidence: During the course of an investigation, it is essential to document the level of confidence expressed by eyewitnesses in their identification or recollection. This information can be crucial in evaluating the reliability of their testimony later on. Research indicates that eyewitness confidence is not always a reliable indicator of accuracy, so it is important to consider the possibility of inaccurate memories even when witnesses express strong confidence in their recollection.
4. Minimize exposure to post-event information: The police should make efforts to minimize witnesses’ exposure to post-event information, such as media coverage or discussions with other witnesses. Exposure to such information can introduce misinformation or biases that influence a witness’s memory. Establishing guidelines and procedures for managing witness exposure to external information can help preserve the accuracy of their account.
5. Conduct double-blind lineups: In situations where a lineup or photo array is used to identify a suspect, it is essential to conduct the process in a double-blind manner. This means that both the administrator and the witness are unaware of the identity of the suspect. This approach minimizes the potential for unintentional cues or biases that can influence the witness’s choice. Additionally, presenting lineup options sequentially, rather than simultaneously, can further reduce the likelihood of erroneous identifications.
6. Provide accurate and comprehensive eyewitness instructions: When witnesses participate in identification procedures, they should be provided with accurate and comprehensive instructions that emphasize the possibility of the perpetrator not being present in the lineup or photo array. This helps counteract the tendency for witnesses to feel pressured to make an identification, even if they are uncertain. Clear instructions can also help prevent witnesses from relying solely on relative judgments (e.g., “he looked the most like the perpetrator”) rather than absolute certainty.
7. Establish standardized protocols: To ensure consistency and minimize the potential for errors, police departments should establish standardized protocols for eyewitness identification procedures. These protocols should incorporate best practices based on scientific research and should be regularly reviewed and updated as new insights emerge. Implementing standardized protocols can help reduce the influence of individual biases or variations in investigative practices that can inadvertently contribute to eyewitness errors.
8. Educate law enforcement and legal professionals: Providing education and training on the factors that contribute to eyewitness errors can enhance the awareness and understanding of law enforcement officers and legal professionals. By equipping them with the knowledge and skills to identify potential biases or flaws in eyewitness testimony, they can better assess the credibility and reliability of such evidence in criminal investigations.
In conclusion, reducing eyewitness errors is a critical goal for the criminal justice system. Implementing these recommendations, such as conducting unbiased interviews, using open-ended questions, minimizing exposure to post-event information, and establishing standardized protocols, can help enhance the reliability and accuracy of eyewitness testimony. By adopting evidence-based practices, police departments can work towards minimizing the potential for wrongful convictions and ensuring the fair administration of justice.