Fall 2018

The Intractability of Inaccurate Eyewitness Identification

Jed S. Rakoff and Elizabeth F. Loftus

Inaccurate eyewitness testimony is a leading cause of wrongful convictions. As early as 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized this danger, but distinguishing reliable from unreliable eyewitness testimony was based largely on surmise. Jed S. Rakoff and Elizabeth F. Loftus explain that while significant improvements can be made to lineups, photo arrays, and other identification procedures, limitations of human perception, memory, and psychology often raise intractable barriers to accurate eyewitness testimony. One response is to sensitize jurors to the limitations of eyewitness identifications, but research has produced mixed results, with some studies showing that it helps jurors discriminate between good and bad eyewitness evidence, and other showing that it merely creates overall skepticism.

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