When the prosecutor argues, “You can believe an eyewitness,” and the
defense lawyer simply counters, “No, you can’t,” the prosecutor wins.
Even worse, the research indicates that when the prosecutor’s eyewitness
is wrong, the prosecutor wins anyway.
Of the first 100 wrongful convictions proven by DNA technology, over 80
percent relied to an important extent on sincere, confident, mistaken
eyewitnesses.1 Jurors (and judges) believe eyewitnesses, or at least
they find it hard to admit that they don’t believe them.
An enormous (and still growing) body of scientific psychological
knowledge addresses this problem, but it hasn’t been easy to mobilize
the research to show jurors that a particular eyewitness has made a
mistake in a particular case.
This follows from the nature of the psychological studies. Experiments
can tell you that under certain conditions an eyewitness will be
mistaken 80 percent of the time, but no experiment — or group of
experiments — can
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