Confessions may influence eyewitness testimony

January 29th, 2009 - 12:17 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, January 29 (ANI): Confessions made by accused persons may influence eyewitness testimonies, according to a new study.
Psychologists Lisa Hasel of Iowa State University and Saul Kassin of John Jay College staged a crime scene to see if eyewitnesses would be swayed enough by a confession to change their mind about their memory of the crime.
The researchers said that the purpose of their experiments was to explore the mind of the eyewitness, and the integrity of eyewitness testimony.
During the study, a small group of students were sitting in a university laboratory. At some point, a person walked in, picked up a laptop from the desk, and walked out of the room.
Just a moment later, a distressed research assistant entered the room, and announced that her laptop was missing.
The group of students were the eyewitnesses, and were asked to help solve the crime.
The pupils were first asked to identify the thief from a line-up, which did not consist of the actual thief, and to rate the confidence of their answers.
Two days later, when the students returned to continue helping with the investigation, they were told either that all of the suspects denied involvement or that a specific suspect confessed to the crime.
The students were then to reconsider their original identification, and rate how confident they were.
Revealing what they observed in the journal Psychological Science, the researchers said that none of the men in the line-up was in fact the real thief, so the only reliable testimony came from those who fingered no one.
That showed, according to the researchers, the vast majority of study volunteers had identified an innocent man as the criminal, and many did so with confidence.
The researchers further said that few were persuaded by claims of innocence, while a disturbing number changed their mind when a suspect confessed.
They revealed that an astonishing 60 percent, who had fingered one suspect, flip-flopped when a different man confessed.
Even those who had been very sure of their original identification were found to experience a steep drop in confidence.
Upon being asked to explain their change of heart, most of the participants said that they had been mistaken earlier, that their memories had fooled them.
As regards the rare volunteers who had correctly refused to finger any one of the original six in the line-up, the researcher said that those witnesses would seem to be especially cautious about falsely accusing someone of a crime, yet half of them also changed their minds when told that a specific suspect had confessed.
The researchers insist that their findings have very serious implications for any legal system, and suggest that investigators need to be aware of how confessions may influence eyewitness testimony.
The authors conclude: “Once informed of a confession, an eyewitness is forever tainted.” (ANI)

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