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Causes of Errors in Eye Witness Accounts

The criminal justice system tremendously depends on eye witnesses in order to determine the facts that surround criminal activities. Eyewitnesses might identify culprits, remember conversations, or other significant information. An eyewitness who is honest and has no intention to lie is a strong form of evidence for the jurors, particularly if the eyewitness seem to be highly confident regarding his memory. In the absence of evidence that is definitive, the account presented by the eyewitness is accepted by judges, the police, as well as prosecutors. However, in some instances, an error may occur in the accounts that are presented by eyewitnesses. The psychological process that leads to eyewitnesses’ error stands for a confluence of both memory as well as social-influence variable that interrelate in complex ways. The use of DNA has confirmed that eyewitness identification is at most times inaccurate.There are different causes of errors in the accounts by eyewitnesses in relation to criminal events.

Exposure Duration: the amount of time that an eyewitness is available for observing a criminal is positively related to the ability of a witness to accurately identify a criminal. A meta-analysis by Barlow (2005) showed that there is a correlation between the time of exposure in a criminal event as well as accuracy of an account by eyewitnesses. The impact of exposure time were demonstrated in a study carried by Parker (2008) where mock witnesses watched a realistic crime that was videotaped and the perpetrator was visible for 10 versus 50 seconds. After 40 minutes, the witnesses were tested by use of target-present as well as target-absent arrays. They found that the proportion of accurate identifications within the target-present arrays as well as correct rejections within the target-absent arrays improved significantly when the exposure time was increased from 10 seconds to 50 seconds. Even though mistakes in identification within the target-absent arrays continued to be high as well with longer exposure. According to Lally (2003), a psychologist, memory weakens as time passes. As a result, the accuracy of eye-witness identification during criminal-events is expected to decline as the time that is between the time of crime and the test for identification increases.

Weapon Focus: this refers to the visual focus that eyewitnesses provide to the weapon of a criminal in the course of a crime. According to Greenberg & Shuman (2007), it is expected that the attention that the eyewitness gives to a weapon is during a criminal activity is anticipated to reduce his capacity to remember later bout the details of the perpetrator of an event. There are many researchers who have made efforts in assessing the remembering capacity of eyewitnesses so as to establish the parameters of the impacts of weapon focus on the memory.

Lack of confidence: the lack of confidence by the eyewitness is a major cause of errors that takes place when an eyewitness is giving a account. Confidence of an eyewitness is a powerful instrument in identifying suspects in a criminal event. Firstly, there is a resilient innate appeal that both confidence as well as accuracy ought to be closely associated. Lack of reliability of an eyewitness ought to be measured in terms of the confidence that he or she expresses in giving an account of what transpired at a crime scene. Jurors who are participating in a court trial consider confidence as being significant prior to making a decision on whether an eyewitness has made correct identification. At first, researchers on eyewitnesses placed emphasis on the relationship that exist between the confidence portrayed by the eyewitness during identification as well as the accuracy that will be attained. However, it is presently clear that the relationship involving confidence as well as accuracy tremendously varies as a function of several other factors. For example, the error made is dependent, in part, on the similarity between a mistakenly identified individual and the actual target (Greenberg & Shuman, 2009). The confidence of an eyewitness is proportional to the amount of memory that he/she has in relation to a crime event. The correlation between the confidence of an eyewitness and the accuracy obtained should therefore be sufficient enough so as to avoid making errors during the identification of criminal persons. According to Parker (2008), the strength of this correlation should  be attained by means of accountability, context reinstatement, as well as other thought influences, even though none of these has been successful in doing so.

Conducting of forensic and clinical assessment has a number of similarities and differences. One such similarity occurs in their participation as forensic experts during litigation in support of their patients. There is a difference in approach in terms of the acquisition and verification f information between the forensic and clinical assessment. Forensic experts use several sources as well as techniques to collect information as they cannot make an assumption of the veracity of any information. However, therapists do not have a problem with the issues of veracity but are more interested with the incentives for litigants.

The failure of an eyewitnesses’ memory. There are other situations when the memory of an eyewitness may fail, therefore resulting into errors in the identification of individuals involved in a crime event. There are different types of skills as well as training that are required in forensic and clinical psychology. According to Packer (2008), forensic psychologists have basic clinical training and must also possess specialized knowledge in addition to experience in relation to the law and its concepts. This as well includes the functioning of the legal process. They also have skills in specialized forensic tools, procedures, as well as the methods that are concerned with the provision of expert witness testimony. Practitioners of forensic psychology ought to be familiar with the legal cases that act as guidance to judges in finding out if new methodologies like psychological tests ought to be accepted as evidence.

Barlow (2005) asserts that conducting of assessments by forensic, and clinical experts are similar in the sense that they are all based on evidence. The U.S. courts recognize psychologists as having the capacity to offer expertise in different legal issues, for instance, as witnesses in crime cases. In a number of jurisdictions, forensic evaluations have a relation to the criminal justice system, where they can assess the competency of a suspect to stand trial. In a therapeutic work, the person who is under evaluation is the client to the psychologist, and the duties, relationship, and nature of relations emanates from this. However, a person who is under evaluation in a forensic relationship is not a client to the psychologist. The person is under evaluation as per the orders of the court. Forensic experts are also needed to adopt an adversarial duty, and question the validity of the reports of an individual.

According to Lally (2003), the testimony of a forensic expert ought to be on the basis of scientific standards that have been accepted. For instance, in the Frye v. United States, 1923, the appellate court made a ruling that the initial form of polygraph is very experimental to be used as evidence. Forensic psychologists must be well-informed on the legal rules that preside over the admissibility of expert testimony. Packer (2008) states that the practitioners who search for training experiences in the field of forensic psychology should focus on the following: forensic interviewing methods, proper use and interpretation of evaluation tools, report writing, ability to provide expert testimony in an apparent and articulate way, and practice forensic psychology in line with the guidelines of the specialty.

In conclusion, efforts have to be made in order to address this issue concerning errors that occur in the accounts that are given by the eyewitnesses. Eyewitnesses account are essential to the forensic evaluators, who then play an imperative role in the modern-day court systems. Some of these roles have been described in the entertainment industry through films as well as television. The approach that professionals in forensic psychology apply in their treatment of criminal suspects is very different from that which is being used by clinical treatment providers. This paper reviews the articles in addressing the assessment as well as roles between forensic evaluators and clinical treatment providers.  

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