False Eye Witness Testimony Essay

1548 words - 7 pages

In the courtroom, a witness’s or victim’s account of an alleged event can sometimes be fundamental to determining an accused’s guilt, rendering his or her liberty, livelihood and reputation at stake. The law requires witnesses to give truthful evidence and encourages them to admit when they do not know or cannot remember the details of the event (Evidence Act of 2008). Witnesses rely on their memories to testify as to what they believe is a true account of the event. However, memories have been found to be fallible with no guarantee of corresponding with objective reality (Johnson, 2001). Research has found that false memories (FM), where a person recalls an event that did not occur and ...view middle of the document...

The verbatim trace acts like short-term memory, which is susceptible to interference and decay and stores visual, spatial and auditory information for short periods of time. The gist trace acts like long- term memory where the overall meaning of the information is stored and episodic detail such as what was took place when the knowledge was acquired and the source of that knowledge fades over time (Neisser & Harshc, 1992; Petrican et al., 2010; Schmolck, Buffalo & Squire, 2000). In the context of ET, eyewitnesses who are interviewed immediately after an event still have the verbatim trace available in memory and ought to provide a veridical recollection of the event (Leding, 2012). However, the reality is that eyewitnesses are interviewed hours, days or even weeks after the event thus relying on gist trace and long-term episodic memory (Leding, 2012). Long-term episodic memories, being reconstructive in nature, results in an eyewitness reconstructing the event using original information, prior semantic knowledge and schema-consistent information derived from schemas during encoding (Leding, 2012; Straube, 2012). This results in a distorted ‘remembering’ of an event that might be, but is not necessarily a true representation of what occurred (Leding, 2012).
Eyewitnesses also use post event information when reconstructing their memories (Leding, 2012; Johnson, 2001; Straube, 2012). This is because episodic detail such as the source of information fades over time leaving behind the information itself. This leads to source monitoring errors where people confuse original information of the event information from external sources (Johnson, 2001). Therefore, false memories occur because of the confusion between internal and external sources of information or between various external sources of information (Johnson, 2001). So an eyewitness can testify to the truth of a piece of information when in reality, that information could have been provided to eyewitness from an external source such as another witness or the media (Leding, 2012). Furthermore, misleading questioning can also contaminate or distort an eyewitness’s memory so as to create false memories (Loftus, 2003; Loftus et al., 1978). This is known as the misinformation effect where the newly acquired misinformation retroactively interferes with previously acquired information (Loftus, 2003; Loftus & Hoffman, 1989). The misinformation is stored and processed via memory updating processes that occur during the consolidation stage of memory processing thus changing old memories by transforming or replacing them (Straube, 2012). The memories subsequently retrieved could be false memories as it could include the retrieval of false suggestions, or blends of original and misleading information (Loftus & Hoffman, 1989). Misleading questions can also sway a person from reporting not knowing an answer to questions to reporting false information about a past event (Scoboria, Mazzoni, Kirsch & Milling,...

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