What Do Jurors Understand About Eyewitness Reliability? The Survey Says...

The Champion
04.01.05

As in most jurisdictions, the District of Columbia criminal justice system repeatedly is called upon to assess the accuracy of witnesses' claims that they remember having seen someone committing a criminal offense. Yet, as noted by Lisa Steele in this past November's issue of The Champion, courts around the country have been "strongly resistant to allowing experts to testify about identification and memory." Such courts generally insist that research with respect to the limitations of eyewitness testimony adds nothing to what is already within the common knowledge of jurors, effectively excluding academic research from criminal trials. In doing so, courts regularly make unsubstantiated assertions that jurors understand, as a matter of common sense, how memory works and what its limitations are in the eyewitness identification context.

This article by Timothy O'Toole disproves such judicial assertions by presenting the results of a survey of potential jurors' understanding of eyewitness reliability -- a powerful tool for defense attorneys anywhere who want to get expert testimony admitted.

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