Comparing Teaching Aids for how to Evaluate Eyewitness testimony in a Criminal Case
Although eyewitness identifications are a common form of evidence presented in criminal trials, analyses of actual cases and studies of mock jurors suggest that people are not skilled at evaluating eyewitness accuracy. Laypeople tend to rely on factors that are not diagnostic of identification accuracy, such as the eyewitness's confidence, and they tend to underestimate factors that are diagnostic of identification accuracy, such as proper interview and lineup procedures. The present study compared the effects of three teaching aids on participants' sensitivity to eyewitness evidence in either a strong or weak eyewitness identification scenario. The interview-identification-eyewitness (I-I-Eye) experimental aid directed participants to first attend to how law enforcement interviewed the eyewitness, second evaluate the identification procedures, and third determine what eyewitness factors during the crime could have impacted the eyewitness's identification accuracy. The Neil v. Biggers control aid presented five criteria that are the current legal standard for evaluating eyewitness evidence. The Jury Duty control aid described aspects of the criminal trial process. The strong and weak transcript scenarios differed on factors relevant to the fairness of the eyewitness interview and the lineup (system variables). Participants were 293 undergraduate students. A 3 (teaching aid) x 2 (trial transcript strength), between-groups factorial design was employed. Participants in the I-I-Eye group rendered significantly more correct verdicts for the strong case and marginally more correct verdicts for the weak case than those in either control group. Importantly, only the I-I-Eye participants demonstrated sensitivity by ruling guilty more often in the strong case (55%) than in the weak case (16%). Thus, the I-I-Eye participants not only learned about eyewitness factors, but were able to integrate this information with other case details so as to reach a correct verdict. Moreover, participants in the I-I-Eye group were more likely to list characteristics of the crime scene (estimator variables) and police procedures (system variables), and less likely to list the lack of forensic evidence in the case, as the reason for their verdict. We discuss how to use the I-I-Eye heuristic to teach laypersons and professionals in the criminal justice system how to evaluate eyewitness evidence.
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