Beyond a Reasonable Doubt?: Reconsidering Uncorroborated Eyewitness Identification Testimony
60 Pages Posted: 18 Feb 2008 Last revised: 27 Apr 2008
In this Article, Professor Sandra Guerra Thompson reviews the overwhelming scientific evidence that establishes that eyewitnesses are notoriously inaccurate in identifying strangers, especially under the conditions that exist in many serious offenses such as robbery. She highlights the fact that many of the factors that tend to decrease the accuracy of an identification are intrinsic to a witness's abilities, and not the product of inappropriate suggestion by the police. The literature shows that witnesses have limited powers of perception, as well as memory retention and retrieval, and that these powers are further limited by the typical conditions that surround events such as violent crimes. As such, the author posits that reforms that aim simply to improve police procedures surrounding eyewitness identifications fall short in correcting the problem of erroneous identifications. Instead, she proposes the implementation of a rule requiring corroborating evidence in cases involving an eyewitness identification. The Article provides an extensive review of the history of corroborating evidence requirements as a means of protecting against wrongful convictions.
Keywords: corroborating evidence, eyewitness identification, police line-ups, innocence
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