Comparison of Knowledge of Law Enforcement and Lay People Regarding Eyewitness Testimony

Author:Kristjan Kask
Position:Ph.D., Researcher, University of Tartu

1. Introduction - 1.1. Objective of survey - 2. Participants and method - 2.1. Questionnaire - 3. Results - 3.1. Law enforcement knowledge of eyewitness testimonies - 3.2. Knowledge of law enforcement according to office - 3.3. Comparison of assessments of law enforcement and lay people - 4. Discussion - 5. Conclusions

Kristjan Kask
Ph.D., Researcher
University of Tartu
Comparison of Knowledge
of Law Enforcement and Lay
People Regarding Eyewitness
1. Introduction
It has been repeatedly demonstrated in legal psychology writings that mistakes related to eyewitness tes-
timony are one of the factors in many court errors.*2 The area of eyewitness testimony in legal psychology
focuses mainly on problems related to identi cation and knowledge of the functioning of the witness’s
memory as well as the in uences of a co-witness (e.g., how people remember certain events and what in u-
ences the accuracy of testimony). The errors in eyewitness testimony are considered to be misidenti cation
(e.g,. identi cation of an innocent individual instead of the suspect), misconceptions about the functioning
of the witness’s memory, reservations about the accuracy of testimony given by child witnesses and the
In the US, the investigation of old cases has been resumed after new technologies have been introduced
(Innocence Project)*3 and to date*4 the conviction of 273 persons have been overturned as the results of a
DNA analysis showed that they had not committed in the past the crimes of which they were convicted.
Errors in eyewitness testimony had served as one of the causes for the conviction in three fourths of the
cases*5 and they are not solely characteristic of the US but also exist in other legal systems in Europe.*6 As
Magnussen et al. have indicated, the eyewitness testimony is important evidence in many criminal cases,
while the court system need not defend the suspect as required against the emergence of such errors.*7
1 The survey was conducted within the framework of the project ‘Interviewing minors in criminal proceedings’, nanced by the
Ministry of Justice together with the European Social Fund through the Fund of Wise Decisions of the State Chancellery. The
author would like to express his gratitude to Professor Jüri Saar for useful comments during the preparation of the article.
2 B. Scheck, P. Neufeld, J. Dwyer. Actual innocence: Five days to execution and other dispatches form the wrongly convicted.
New York: Doubleday 2000.
3 See
4 As of 29 August 2011.
5 G. L. Wells, A. Memon, S. D. Penrod. Eyewitness evidence: Improving its probative value. – Psychological Science in the
Public Interest 2006/2, pp. 45–75.
6 S. Sporer, R. S. Malpass, G. Köhnken (eds.). Psychological issues in eyewitness identi cation. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erl-
baum 1996.
7 S. Magnussen, R. A. Wise, A. Q. Raja, M. A. Safer, N. Pawlenko, U. Stridbeck. What judges know about eyewitness testimony:
A comparison of Norwegian and US judges. – Psychology, Crime and Law 2008/3, pp. 177–188.

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