Index Home About Blog
From: B. Harris)
Newsgroups: misc.consumers,talk.politics.medicine,
Subject: Eyewitness Testimony and Injustice (was: MacDonalds verdict was VERY 
	justified  WAS Medicare and Bret's
Date: 24 May 1999 05:15:56 GMT

In <> Ken H.  writes:

>On Sun, 23 May 1999 20:05:30 GMT,
>(Jonathan R. Fox) wrote:
>>Right.  And I agree with Jim that our speculation is pretty
>>meaningless when none of us was present in the courtroom or even heard
>>a tiny bit of the evidence as it was presented there......
>Very true and appropriate.  So, I guess this sets in stone the
>innocence of O.J and he did not commit double murders.  Interesting
>that the civil trial found differently because shrewd defense lawyers
>can't twist facts.      It's also interesting that a week doesn't go
>by that the news media doesn't report an incidence where DNA has
>proven the innocence of people who have spent years in prison.  A
>jurisprudence system designed to let 10 go free rather than convict
>one innocent person  seems to be an idealistic concept.


   There's a reason for that, and that is that the law allows
conviction of people of major crimes, even capital crimes, without any
physical evidence whatsoever-- but rather on eyewitness testimony
alone.  And that is what nearly all these cases of unjust conviction
have in common, if you look at them.

   This kind of thing happens because law is a tradition derived
largely from a pre-scientific time in which physical evidence wasn't
helpful.  Today, it is.  Moreover, today we know that human memory is a
far cruder and deceptive instrument than common sense leads one to
suspect.  Alas, the legal tradition itself, due to its roots, now
places grave obstacles in the way of defense lawyers who would like to
remind EVERY jury of today's well-accepted and well-corroborated
scientific findings on the falibility of memory and many kinds of
eyewitness testimony.

  The problem is so bad that I really think that every criminal trial
which will have eyewitnesses testify at any time for the prosecution,
should have a standard and legally mandated tutorial on the problems of
memory and eyewitness testimony, both before the trial begins, and
again before they begin to deliberate. Much like a judge's standard and
rote statement to the jury in some kinds of cases.  And one of things
such a tutorial should include are some actual cases of wrongly
convicted people and the testimony that got them there, AND a strong
recomendation to be EXTRAORDINARILY wary of cases unsupported by
anything but eyewitness testimony, with the possible exception of
people identifying gross and clear actions performed by people who are
already very well known to them (such identification being one function
of the brain which seems to be on par with many forensic tests, so far
as reliability goes).

Index Home About Blog