Educating The Attorney

A new article correctly states that 25% of overturned cases (likely by DNA) were false confessions that lead to a conviction, then asks if if judges and juries understand how to weigh evidence? Obviously, not well enough. Confessions turn out to the be the most powerful tool a prosecutor has but it supposed to to be treated as evidence that is weighed along with all other forms of evidence.  The same can be said about eyewitness testimony which is highly unreliable.

The integrity of using these forms of evidence alone as a trump card is weak and it is dangerous. Attorneys should be made aware of this.

Dr. Saul Kassin (who I’ve met with several times and have my own opinions about…but he is one of my inspirations research wise) of John Jay College wanted to see “if eyewitnesses would be swayed enough by a confession to change their mind about their memory of the crime.”

In these experiments, the researchers staged a crime scene to explore the mind of the eyewitness and the integrity of eyewitness testimony.

The results, reported in the January issue of the journal Psychological Science, are a bit unsettling. None of the men in the lineup was in fact the real thief, so the only reliable testimony came from those who fingered no one. That is, the vast majority of study volunteers identified an innocent man as the criminal, and many did so with confidence. That’s disturbing in itself, but it gets worse. While few were persuaded by claims of innocence – that happens all the time – a disturbing number changed their mind when a suspect confessed.

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 experienced a steep drop in confidence. When asked to explain their change of heart, most said they had been mistaken earlier, that their memories had fooled them.

How about the rare volunteers who (correctly) refused to finger any one of the original six in the lineup? These witnesses would seem to be especially cautious about falsely accusing someone of a crime. Yet fully half of these eyewitnesses also changed their minds when told that a specific suspect had confessed.

Bottom line, what your told may effect your memory which may effect your perception. Add any sort of emotionally charged traumatized victim to it, and it’s highly suspect judgment that could easily and drastically effect a possibly innocent person’s life.

Original article

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