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Eyewitnesses play an important role in criminal cases when they can identify culprits. Estimates suggest that tens of thousands of eyewitnesses make identifications in criminal investigations each year. Research on factors that affect the accuracy of eyewitness identification procedures has given us an increasingly clear picture of how identifications are made, and more importantly, an improved understanding of the principled limits on vision and memory that can lead to failure of identification. Factors such as viewing conditions, duress, elevated emotions, and biases influence the visual perception experience. Perceptual experiences are stored by a system of memory that is highly malleable and continuously evolving, neither retaining nor divulging content in an informational vacuum. As such, the fidelity of our memories to actual events may be compromised by many factors at all stages of processing, from encoding to storage and retrieval. Unknown to the individual, memories are forgotten, reconstructed, updated, and distorted. Complicating the process further, policies governing law enforcement procedures for conducting and recording identifications are not standard, and policies and practices to address the issue of misidentification vary widely. These limitations can produce mistaken identifications with significant consequences. What can we do to make certain that eyewitness identification convicts the guilty and exonerates the innocent?

Identifying the Culprit makes the case that better data collection and research on eyewitness identification, new law enforcement training protocols, standardized procedures for administering line-ups, and improvements in the handling of eyewitness identification in court can increase the chances that accurate identifications are made. This report explains the science that has emerged during the past 30 years on eyewitness identifications and identifies best practices in eyewitness procedures for the law enforcement community and in the presentation of eyewitness evidence in the courtroom. In order to continue the advancement of eyewitness identification research, the report recommends a focused research agenda.

Identifying the Culprit will be an essential resource to assist the law enforcement and legal communities as they seek to understand the value and the limitations of eyewitness identification and make improvements to procedures.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780309310598
Publisher: National Academies Press
Publication date: 01/16/2015
Pages: 170
Sales rank: 1,207,539
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.80(h) x 0.50(d)

Table of Contents

Summary 1

1 Introduction 9

2 Eyewitness Identification Procedures 21

3 The Legal Framework for Assessment of Eyewitness Identification Evidence 31

4 Basic Research on Vision and Memory 45

5 Applied Eyewitness Identification Research 71

6 Findings and Recommendations 103


A Biographical Information of Committee and Staff 123

B Committee Meeting Agendas 133

C Consideration of Uncertainty in Data on the Confidence-Accuracy Relationship and the Receiver Operating Characteristic (Roc) Curve 139

Boxes, Figures, and Tables


1-1 The Ronald Cotton Case, 10 1-2 Charge to the Committee, 12

2-1 Blinding, 26

5-1 The Influences of Discriminability and Response Bias on Human Binary Classification Decisions, 81

5-2 Analysis of Receiver Operating Characteristics (ROCs), 84


1-1 Memory accuracy and time, 17

5-1 Contingency table for possible eyewitness identification outcomes, 78

C-1 Data inferred from Justin, Olsson and Wiuman, 143

C-2 Data from Brewer and Wells, 147

C-3 Data from Experiment IA in Mickes, Flowe, and Wixted, 148

C-4 Data from Experiment 2 in Mickes, Flowe, and Wixted, 149


C-1 Conditions and Logarithms of Reported pAUC Values, 152

C-2 Analysis of Variance Table for log(pAUC), 153

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