Rossen Reports

How to train yourself to be a better eyewitness

April 21, 2014 at 7:32 AM ET

How to be a better witness:

  • Safety first.
  • After you are safe, write down everything you remember, as memory can fade quickly.
  • Focus on unchangeable and/or unique features of the perpetrator, such as a scar or skin complexion.
  • Relate the perpetrator(s) to someone you know. How are they similar? How are they different?
  • When speaking with police, avoid making inferences. If you don’t know the answer, say you don’t know.
  • Request best practices in your case. Ask for a sequential double-blind lineup with pre-lineup instructions.
  • Don’t assume the perpetrator is in the lineup that the police show you.

How to be a better juror:

  • A witness’ level of confidence in their identification, especially at trial, must be considered with caution.
  • Scrutinize the conditions under which the witness view the perpetrator(s) and the conditions under which their memory was tested.
  • Consider when a witness’ description of the perpetrator(s) was given. Was it before or after they viewed a police suspect?
  • Don’t be dismissive of differences between the witness’ description and the defendant’s appearance at the time of the crime.
  • Generally, quicker identifications are more likely to be accurate because recognition is a quick process. Be wary of long decision times.
  • Look for a video or audio recording of the entire identification procedure, not just a recording of the interview after the identification has been made.

Video: Do you trust your memory? In this segment of Rossen Reports, national investigative correspondent Jeff Rossen puts eyewitness memory to the test, setting up a social experiment where people witness a crime and are asked to identify the perpetrator, with some surprising results.





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