The Importance of Eyewitness Testimony in the Criminal Justice System

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Eyewitness testimony is a term that refers to the situational account of an incident or a crime by a person as experienced firsthand. The person may be required to describe the incident and even identify the perpetrators before a jury (Thomas, & Bradshaw, 2006). For many years eyewitness testimony has been considered a convincing form of evidence in the criminal justice system mainly because it is popularly believed that we trust our experiences and perceptions. Juries tend to think of eyewitness testimony as a reliable source of information.

Children are involved in the legal system in several ways. They can be witnesses, victims and even offenders and they may be legally required to give accurate reports of what they know of the incident under investigation. However being convincing is a different thing from being accurate. The claim that eyewitnesses are accurate and reliable is testable. Scientific proof has justified that eyewitness evidence is subject to distortion. To be precise the belief that memory offers an accurate record of events the same way that a video would is not correct.

Memory functions to guide the actions of people and to give them a sense of identity but ideally, people are biased to notice and may tend to overlook some experiences and even exaggerate others (Bala, Ramakrishnan, Lindsay, & Lee, 2005). In other words, memory is malleable. In 2002 about a million people were wrongly convicted of felony in the USA. A research carried out by the Ohio criminal justice department stated that in every 200 felony cases there is one wrongful conviction. This scenario translated to more than 5000 convicts being incarcerated for crimes they did not commit (Wise, Dauphinais, & Safer, 2006). As honest as they may appear, eyewitnesses are among the primary causes of convictions. 

To minimize eyewitness error, a tripartite solution can be relied upon. The first part of the solution proposes the permission of expert testimony when eyewitness testimony is the primary evidence against the defendant. The second part proposes that frameworks be put in place to ensure that the law enforcement procedure for collecting eyewitness evidence is improved and lastly there is the need to come up with ways of reducing stress on children who are giving witness (Merjian, 2009). This may include making improvements in the legal profession whereby a specialty in child law is developed so that the people undertaking this specialty can be trained in child development, developmental psychology and experience in interviewing children.


Children should be allowed to be part of the legal procedure if the situation demands so such as if they are the victims or primary witnesses. However, they should be examined in a separate location with the opposite council and the judge while the accused view the proceedings via a one-way screen or a video. This can help reduce distress in children thereby putting less pressure on their memory. Also, children should be prepared in advance by having some of the aspects of the procedure explained to them though this should be done with much care to ensure that their testimony or attitude is not interfered with. Eyewitness testimony is powerful proof for convicting accused persons; however, it is subject to memory distraction and bias even among the witnesses considered the most confident. Therefore memory can indeed be inaccurate or accurate, and the two are not distinguishable without objective evidence.


Bala, N., Ramakrishnan, K., Lindsay, R., & Lee, K. (2005). Judicial assessment of the credibility of child witnesses. Alberta Law Review, 42(4), 995.

Benton, T. R., Ross, D. F., Bradshaw, E., Thomas, W. N., & Bradshaw, G. S. (2006). Eyewitness memory is still not common sense: Comparing jurors, judges and law enforcement to eyewitness experts. Applied Cognitive Psychology: The Official Journal of the Society for Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, 20(1), 115-129.

Merjian, A. H. (2009). Anatomy of a Wrongful Conviction: State v. Dodge and What it Tells Us About Our Flawed Criminal Justice System. U. Pa. JL & Soc. Change, 13, 137.

Peterson, C. (2007). Reliability of child witnesses: A decade of research. The Canadian Journal of Police and Security Services, 5(3/4), 142-151.

Wise, R. A., Dauphinais, K. A., & Safer, M. A. (2006). Tripartite Solution to Eyewitness Error, A. J. Crim. L. & Criminology, 97, 807.

December 12, 2023

Crime Entertainment Law



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