Essay on Eyewitness Testimony

Published: 2021/11/11
Number of words: 1976

The criminal justice system heavily relies on eyewitness testimonies to establish some facts about investigations. Psychological theories explain the how justice system utilizes the memory and cognitive abilities of witnesses to shed light or identify some culprits. However, such individuals might not be always right as their memories are prone to decay and distortion. As such, the justice system should be sure to assess individuals who testify, for they can give false or misleading information (Conway, 2015). Emotions can also play a crucial role in establishing facts that eyewitnesses are stating before a court of law. In the past, courts used eyewitness evidence to determine and identify criminals, a matter that has received a lot of criticism in recent years since the brains of humans and visual preceptors are malleable. Courts overlooked the fact that eyewitnesses can be misleading until DNA tests emerged to exonerate criminals who been unfairly convicted (Rodriguez & Berry, 2016). Since then, eyewitness evidence is not reliable as before due to the ability of witnesses forgetting or distorting their memories. The paper aims to examine the role of eyewitness evidence in the criminal justice system in relation to classical and contemporary psychological theories critically. Equally, the research will shift focus towards the correlation between memory and eyewitness testimony in courts.

Memories of humans are prone to distortion, especially when they are subjected to interference by other factors. Equally, some memories evoke emotions in people that act as appraisals to act in a particular way (Findley, 2017). According to classic theories in psychology, an individual can make practice and habit by repeating it over and over again. Criminals who give false evidence in the name of eyewitnesses gain confidence through experience. Having practiced for long, one gains experience and can lie without having any lapses in his/her testimony. The system must devise strategic measures to ascertain the validity of the testimonies before using them to prosecute individuals. Psychological examinations should be applied where necessary to ascertain the ability of an individual to testify (Conway, 2015). Both the cognitive theories of confidence and bias should be used in court to ensure that people are not convicted wrongfully. Some witnesses have developed memory lapses that cannot allow them to demonstrate rightfully. Equally, some witnesses are affected by the emotional factor, which changes their possibility of reporting the exact scene.

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Eye-witness evidence is vital in some cases where suspects involved are many. It will serve as a way of identifying criminals who had done an offense. For instance, when one is raped, and suspects are arrested, the complainant can easily identify suspects when they are presented. As such, the criminal justice system is heavily reliant on eyewitnesses to establish truth in some cases (Singh, 2016). It is important to note that eyewitness evidence is prone to biasness, which makes it less effective in its application within the criminal justice system. For instance, the presence of weapons within the courtroom scares some, which affects the legibility of the testimony issued. The weapon focus theory should serve in court to help authorities provide an ample environment for eyewitnesses to testify. As such, the cognitive theory can be used to constructively within the criminal justice system (Findley, 2017). It is essential to improve its efficiency in the system to avoid conviction of wrong individuals due to misleading testimonies.

Emotional cues that can be notable in a person testifying can prove whether one is giving a true testimony. For instance, when one is conditioned to lie in a court of law, he/she can fail to attach more emotions as compared to someone telling the truth. It is such factors that complicate the use of eyewitness testimonies in a court of law (Allison, Basquin & Gerwing, 2017). Expectation bias can alter the issuance of a testimony in court. For instance, if one is motivated that recalling on a memory can help them, it is easier to give biased evidence. Such scenarios threaten the efficacy of the criminal justice system to reduce criminal cases in any given country. Many people have been convicted due to wrong testimonies that are based on expectations and lies. As such, an eyewitness to some extent has contributed significantly to wrongful convictions (Wixted, 2018). Confirmation bias is a cognitive theory that favors one’s beliefs while giving a testimony. However, it is important to note whatever they believe in is not necessarily true. The theory can be applied in court to extract evidence based on confirmation bias.

The eyewitness testimony helps identify familiar faces and unfamiliar faces. From the familiar faces, the criminal justice system can narrow down to the exact individual involved in the particular incident (Epstein, 2016). In essence, the approach helps law enforcement authorities establish missing facts about a case or event that happened. However, misinformation post the event can risk abilities in individuals to give a true testimony. Law enforcement authorities must oblige to use the right procedures in the event to ensure that the criminal justice system is just enough as it should (Wixted, 2018). The misinformation of witnesses prior to issuance of testimony jeopardizes the ability of realizing true information. The theory of misinformation is an efficient integration in eyewitness testimonies to determine the validity of information issued.

To avoid misleading eyewitnesses within the justice system, there is a need to create context existing when the crime occurs. Equally, let the witnesses report everything as it was on the ground, including minor facts. Such facts help establish reality and connect dots that are missing for a better interpretation. Also, an individual should take alternative points of view and report details in different orders. If the information on the event flows chronologically, there is a chance that the witness is speaking the truth. However, some are experienced enough to lie in a court of law. As such, there is a need to use different approaches to test whether the testimonies issued are genuine or not. Speaking slowly is another cue that can be used to determine the validity and applicability of a testimony. When one is sure and sincere about what they are saying, it is easier for them to be less anxious. Anxiety is an indication of something fishy in the testimony issued.

Face identification is another important process that is geared up by eyewitnesses. For instance, if the enforcement authorities have over 150 suspects in a murder case, it can use the help of witnesses to nail down the exact individual who participated. Lineups can be applied to identify the culprits responsible (Wang, et. al, 2018). According to research, when a person has more prolonged contact, it is easier to remember the event. However, emotions can make one attach the memory where it cannot be easily forgotten. The long-term memory helps remember important and horrifying aspects or events in people’s lives. If one witnesses a murder, it is hard for them to forget the culprits and the vent all together (Epstein, 2016). The appraisal theory can help explain in court why some witnesses are up to the task. As such, the criminal justice system should step up efforts and ensure criminals are put to record (Wang, et. al, 2018). Administrations that oversee the eyewitness identification process should employ the double-blind strategy in a bid to ensure fairness. Equally, there should be a prompt recording of confidence statements, which are significant in determining the efficacy of the testimony in convicting an individual.

Combining different eyewitness testimonies can help provide a compelling analysis of the matter in question. For instance, if there are over ten witnesses in one particular case stating the same thing, then there is a likelihood that the evidence is legit (Wang, et. al, 2018). Emotions in humans are a significant factor, especially when one is giving testimony in court. Emotions distract attention that one has when doing a particular task. Cognitive processes in humans affect how we experience feelings within society (Gabbert, et. al, 2016). The same case applies to the criminal justice system. If an individual receives appraisal to lie in court, then emotionally, they can do the same as conditioned. Psychological assessments should be part of the eyewitness testimony as one can be biased. An emotion of anger, for instance, can alter the delivery of a testimony successfully. Authorities should understand that different appraisals are related to anger. They include goal obstacle, accountability, unfairness, and control. Such factors in an individual can motivate them to lie in a court emotionally. Emotions in individuals evoke automatic responses that easily appeal to the law enforcement authorities. Still, the appraisal approach of cognitive theory should serve to explain to authorities that some testimonies are ill instigated.

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Notably, it is difficult to determine whether it is appraising a situation that evokes emotions in a witness or a direct response (Sheahan, Pozzulo, Reed & Pica, 2018). Feelings associated with direct responses are more real and can evoke empathy among many. To avoid getting emotionally distracted when giving testimony, one should concentrate and focus on what they are doing. Lose of attention affects the issuance of a testimony negatively (Gabbert, et. al, 2016). The criminal justice system should consider such factors before resolving to use eyewitness as a means of establishing facts. Emotions should be regulated in a bid to ensure that the right approaches are employed in the identification of criminals.

To sum it up, eyewitness testimonies serve a vital role in the criminal justice system of any country. For instance, it helps in the identification of criminals who participated in illegal activities. Equally, it helps establish witnesses who lie in a court of law for either biasness or expectations. Contemporary theories that are applicable in determining the efficacy of the evidence include confirmation bias cognitive theory, psychological appraisal, subjective experiences, and psychological arousal. Psychological appraisal encompasses goal obstacle, blame, unfairness and control. Weapon focus theory and the misinformation theory can also be applied in such circumstances to establish the truth of the matter. Misinformation can occur on two events, prior to the event and after. Equally, the confidence theory can be used to determine whether one is lying in a court of law or not. As such, classic and contemporary psychological theories are helpful in the criminal justice system.


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