At What Cost?: Blind Testing, Eyewitness Identification, and the Question of What Can and Cannot Be Counted as a Cost of Reducing Information Available for Decision
22 Pages Posted: 2 Dec 2013 Last revised: 31 Jan 2014
Date Written: November 30, 2013
One theme of the conference for which this piece was written is “When does less information result in better decisions?” In keeping with that theme, I am taking up an issue which raises a central question concerning what we mean by “information,” and what counts as “less information” and “better decisions.” In what follows, I will dissent, at least in part, from the position of the prominent eyewitness identification researcher Steven Clark, set forth in a recent article in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science, who appears to hold that in evaluating reforms in eyewitness identification procedures, all losses of selections that are in fact true perpetrator selections must be counted as costs of the proposed reform in evaluating the wisdom of the reform. I will take the position that this is clearly not true in regard to the administration of such line-ups “double blind,” that is, their administration in such a way that the person conducting the procedure has no knowledge of the target of the lineup (or at least of the target’s position in the lineup array), and therefore cannot cue the witness, consciously or unconsciously, about the hoped-for selection. Ultimately, however, I will support Professor Clark’s position that losses of accurate identifications may properly be counted as costs in evaluating some other proposed reforms of eyewitness identification procedures, particularly sequential presentation, but I will conclude that in that case, based on the knowledge currently available, that the epistemic and moral benefits of sequential presentation outweigh such costs.
Keywords: Evidence, Blind testing, masking, eyewitness identification, expert evidence, lineups, criminal procedure, innocence
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