Jun 11, 2019 in Review

The Newspaper Analysis

The reliability of the eyewitness interpretations of a crime has proved to be a rich seam for psychologists and criminologists over the years (Nicholson, Yarbrough & Penrod, 2014; Loftus, 2013, Schneider, 2013). In these terms, witness psychology has a valuable application to improve the procedure of eyewitness testimonies in many real cases of crime investigation. This essay analyzes two newspaper articles and discusses the basic implications of certain concepts that could be applied to the given events.  

The Newspaper Article #1

The first analyzed article “The End of Eyewitness Testimonies. As science seeps into the courtroom, memory-as-evidence fades into the background” by Hayasaki (2014) is devoted to the problem of the reliability of eyewitness testimonies. In this paper, the author explains how the procedure of the crime investigation scene can affect human memories. The current analysis will depict the discussion in terms of three basic aspects such as memory eyewitness testimony, witness suggestibility, and accuracy of witness identification. 

As I learned from the Week 2 materials, memory eyewitness testimony often fails to be true. In the subsequent unfolding of the case, that evidence would probably not be enough to convict the offender, as the account of an eyewitness was a powerful decisive factor. This may be better understood on the illustration of how memory works. For instance, the eyewitness testimony might be unreliable since she was emotionally involved into the crime scene because her husband was dying in her arms and she had a gun pointed at her head. Besides, the effects of the hypnosis possibly were included in her testimony. Moreover, it is obvious that the lapse of time between the crime and the identification would possibly act as estimator variables that might affected the eyewitness testimony.

Accepting additional information as the part of an earlier experience without actually remembering that information, forms memories based on the suggestion taken from some other source. Thus, it may be concluded that the memories of the victim’s wife might be under arousal effect caused by the crime scene events. In terms of source monitoring, an eyewitness tries to identify the source of his/her memories relying either on the evaluative processes, which help to perceive mental experiences, or on internal (thought) sources. Distinguishing internal from external sources is essential to avoid false memories of events. However, in this particular case, the eyewitness was unable to differentiate whether the original event or some later event was the source of the information. Therefore, the victim's wife misremembered what she had experienced.

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The evidence that could be used against the offender depends on the eyewitness testimony. However, in the article, Hayasaki (2014, p. 45) depicts the problem of a ripple effect that was particularly common in reevaluating cases decades ago when the science of memory was misunderstood and not widely accepted. 

Another important issue of this case is the accuracy of witness identification. Due to Week 4 materials, it is vastly dependent on instructions acknowledged by witnesses as well as on the technique of solid-liquid border of the identification. If the instructions explicitly assume that the offender is not identified, the probability of false identification is reduced, although the overall recognition accuracy has almost no changes. Similarly, the instructions may affect the probability of the selection of any particular person. Therefore, it is important for them to be not biased against such instructions. Fortunately, such expertise of memory beliefs gave courts the right to permit expert testimonies on witness misidentifications. Hence, the new procedures for agreeing on eyewitness identifications in the law court, which include “suggestive” strategies like cueing the eyewitness or strengthening identification, need to be refused under the threat of prosecution. In the described case, the victim’s wife saw a photo of a suspect in the newspaper, and she no longer doubted her ability to recall the offender (Hayasaki, 2014, p. 43). Despite increasing awareness of memory science, the details about how it works still remain largely unfamiliar to many jurors, witnesses, attorneys, judges, and law enforcement officials.

When an observer seems confident in court, his or her expressed statements are considered more reliable than when he or she speaks uncertainly or hesitates. In these terms, the jury suggests that there is interdependence between the self-assurance of the eyewitness and the accurateness of his or her memory. Therefore, the jury trusts eyewitnesses that are more confident. However, some studies (Wixted, Mickes, Clark, Gronlund, & Roediger, 2015; Evans, 2015) showed that the correlation between the correctness and confidence memory is improbable or even absent whereas some other investigations found a negative correlation. For instance, some subjects were confident in their incorrect answers more than in true ones. This fact shows that there are conditions under which the self-confidence of the witnesses can prove the correctness of their memory, and there are others conditions where this does not work. More exactly, the confidence displayed after making the identification appears to be more thoroughly related to accuracy than the confidence showed before the identification (Wixted et al., 2015). Hence, the interdependence between the memory accuracy and confidence is never strong. However, jurors believe in the truthfulness of certain witnesses, that is why they exaggerate the importance of certainty in assessing the evidence.

The Newspaper Article #2

The second analyzed article “Death in Memphis” by Segura (2013) highlights the real dilemma of the innocent offender. This article generally explains and discusses the main features of the murder case. In the current analysis, I will discuss the relevance of three basic aspects such as memory eyewitness testimony, the accuracy of witness identification, and the role of eyewitness interpretation of the event in the accuracy of testimony. 

In the described case there were two eyewitnesses. One was a woman named Joyce Jeltz who saw the shooting. The other was Don Williams’s partner, Frank Lee, an off-duty police officer who claimed that he met McKinney and exchanged gunfire with him before the latter disappeared in the alleyway. 

There is a famous effect called “weapon focus”. If a person is observing an event where someone is handling a gun, he/she does not remember much information associated with the event. The psychologists argue that the reason is that the focus of the witness is on the weapon at that moment (McRae, Sharps, Power & Newton, 2014). One of the most precarious effects about the McKinney gunfire is the sum of information that is available to general public. Observers are expected to see other eyewitness accounts, the formal version, and information from the police. 

It should be mentioned that the witnesses remember clearly that a person’s face is familiar to them, but it is difficult for them to recall why. In their experiment, Nicholson, Yarbrough, and Penrod (2014) showed that the subjects were offered to watch an event. Through several days, they were shown pictures of alleged participants of this event. In reality, the people in the photos did not take part in the event. After several days, the tested people were asked to identify four people. They had to indicate the ones they saw at the time of the event observation. Thus, the people often pointed to those they had seen in the pictures. This example shows that subjects correctly recalled that these persons were familiar to them, but they mistakenly associated this familiarity with the initial event. Therefore, this experiment illustrates the ability to identify the lawbreaker interrupted by previously seen photos. 

Similarly, in the research of Evans (2015), the subjects tested memory for recognizing the person familiar to them. The results showed that the error occurred when they bound an acquaintance with some specific episode that had happened earlier. On the next day, witness Joyce Jeltz did not recognize anyone but selected photos of McKinney and another man who looked like the shooter. She claimed that she recognized McKinney as she had seen him previously on TV (Segura, 2013, p. 21). When a witness is exposed to post-event data, it tends to penetrate into his/her memory. Being an eyewitness to violence means not to be a rational observer. Thus, the witness can still choose an innocent man as it happened in the case of McKinney.

In addition, Week 2-4 materials highlight the topic of how previously formed memories influence mental images of past events. There are significant correctness, adequacy of the process of perception, identity preservation, and reconstruction of the generated image in the memory of a person. Powerful physical stimuli (cry, a flash of light, an unexpected loud voice, etc.), the beginning or the end of any action, everything that is covered by active operations and has significance for the subject may be referred to as the sensible reactions. It should also be kept in mind that some people are better at remembering pleasant actions, while others - malevolent ones (Evans, 2015). Perceived actions may be involuntarily reconstructed under the influence of the actions that occur after that. 

Thus, significant deformation in testimony can happen under the influence of the following discussion, events, public opinion, gossip, and communications through the mass of information. Involvement of the witnesses in the criminal justice process exposes them to excessive responsibility for their actions. They retrieve information ready in advance and suitable for the situation. Realizing questions of the investigator, the witnesses initially differentiate the material to be reproduced. There may be the difficulty of remembering, translation of particularly sensual information in voice recognition. Verbalization process of information, in turn, passes two steps: the inner speech and pronunciation, and only then - detailed communicative verbalization. The eyewitnesses use the arguments, which can be accurately interpreted only by the investigator.

This case also showed that it can both decrease injudicious identifications in criminal investigations and diminish the consequences when false identifications involuntary occur. Jurors and judges, prosecutors and police officers need to be involved in the research on eyewitness psychology to avoid the situation when apparently credible witness makes a positive identification. The police should also be attentive when collecting eyewitness identification suggestions. Inaccurate opinions based on false suppositions about the legitimacy of eyewitness testimony result not only in accusing of the innocent but also failure to sentence the true offender. By setting aside all these issues, eyewitnesses can get effects wrong because of interpretation.

Conclusion

Thus, analysis of typical investigative situations makes it possible to put forward the most credible version of the suspect’s location and other circumstances of the crime. From this perspective, the procedure of the crime investigation should include psychological evaluation procedures of the witness as well as activities that contribute to the effectiveness of the disclosure and investigation of crimes.

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