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Eyewitness Identification: A Police Perspective

NCJ Number
Paul B. Carroll; Ken Patenaude
Date Published
163 pages
Although this book includes references to research that has focused on the reliability and accuracy of eyewitness evidence in criminal proceedings, the authors state that this book is "neither a research report nor a scholarly document," but is rather a summary of the continuing problems facing the criminal justice system regarding eyewitness evidence, as experienced and perceived by the authors as criminal justice practitioners.
The authors preface their discussion with their opinion and experience that the "great majority" of the eyewitness identifications investigators obtain are correct and usually substantiated by other forms of evidence. They note, however, a University of Michigan study that found 328 persons were exonerated and freed (4 posthumously after they died in prison) between 1989 and 2003 due to faulty eyewitness identifications. They conclude that this shows police eyewitness identification procedures are deficient. Overall, this book advocates implementing the eyewitness evidence reforms proposed by the U.S. Department of Justice's publication, "Eyewitness Evidence: A Guide for Law Enforcement." It also advocates additional reforms that include mandating the sequential presentation of individuals in live lineups or photos contained within arrays rather than the traditional simultaneous process. The authors recommend that these reforms in obtaining and processing eyewitness evidence be specified in a law enforcement agency's eyewitness identification policy and included in police training programs. The book's chapters include a review of research that has shown the fallibility of human memory; a description of the techniques used in a cognitive interview of eyewitnesses; an assessment of identification procedures; and a review of simultaneous versus sequential (one at a time) identification procedures, witness bolstering, and the duty to report accurately the events and comments associated with obtaining eyewitness evidence. 54 references, a listing of selected eyewitness court decisions, and a listing of relevant State appellate court cases