In October, the United States Supreme Court will consider the issue of the reliability of eye-witness identifications and testimony. The Supreme court has yet to address the fact that the most frequent contributing cause of wrongful convictions, which have been overturned due to DNA evidence that excludes the convicted defendant and often identifies the actual culprit, in a case of a mis-identification or otherwise completely unreliable eye-witness testimony.
The problem of witness reliability is ancient, but the thousands of cases and opinions that have dealt with the issue have shed new light on it, and especially the reliability of eye-witnesses to traumatic events and witnesses who have been subjected to line-up identification rituals by the police. Since the last Supreme Court decision examined how judges should deal with unreliable eye-witness testimony there has been an enormous amount of useful scientific experimentation and discussion that has confirmed just how malleable the human memory is and how often diligent witnesses testify mistakenly and falsely about what they believe or have been led to believe they actually saw or heard.
Science and the courts are not the only disciplines that have concerned themselves with this problem and how it effects our judgment.
Here’s another picture of one of the earliest stories about witness reliability and how a judge decides how much credibility to give to a witness, or to choose between contradictory witnesses.
Raphael fresco 1500