The Champion

November 2003 , Page 24 

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Two stories of eyewitness error

By James M. Doyle

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.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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