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Effect of Eyewitness Testimony on Jury Verdict, Research Paper Example

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Research Paper

Introduction

Eyewitness testimony is an important part of the judicial process. It can tip the verdict one way or another depending on how convincing the witness is. Several studies have looked at the effect of eyewitness testimony on the jurors. Many of these studies evaluated and compared several conditions of eyewitness testimony. Relatively, eyewitness testimonies are worded evidences that are considered strong enough to define the condition or the situation that has occurred during a certain case. Nevertheless, there are different elements that could actually make a specific impact on how a testimony shall be viewed by the court.

On the part of the jury, worded testimonies by eyewitnesses play a great role on how they would define the being of the one being sat in the stand. The accused individual or the defendant’s being could be manipulated by the way an eyewitness describes a situation. There is of course a margin of error considering this matter. It is undeniable that there are instances when eyewitnesses tend to forget or at some point add up particular information to their statements especially when they are under pressure. Hence, the jury’s position on the matter play a great role on how an eyewitness’ testimony shall b valued in the completion of a particular case. In the study that follows, the value of an eyewitness testimony shall be examined based on research and an actual survey process that would put several participants into the position of the juries that are facing the need to decide on whether or not a defendant is guilty of the crime he is being accused of.

Not only does eyewitness testimony have a great effect on the outcome of a trial, but so does race. The race of the people involved within a trial can lead to empathy to certain parties involved. Empathy can be induced by similarities between people (Linder). If the jurors are the same race as the defendant, they may show empathy toward that defendant. If jurors are the same race as the eye witness, they may show empathy with that witness. Jurors tend to show empathy to the like party within the trial (Linder). The link between empathy and a discriminatory jury has been suspected since 1929 when a published legal treatise stated, “ The juryman is aware of something subtle from himself in the person of an alien race. A juror of a witness’s own nationality may not particularly like him, and may even dislike him, but he feels that he understands him, and he instinctively sympathizes with what is said in his behalf. A Jew will always favor a Jew, an Irishman an Irishman; and-shall I say it-an Elk an Elk (Linder).”

Weinberg and Baron (1982) conducted a study to evaluate the effect of evidence including eyewitness testimony on guilty verdict. More guilty votes were associated with eyewitness testimony compared to evidence only (57% vs. 31% respectively, p <0.001). They also found that eyewitness testimony solicited more guilty votes (57%) compared with discredited eyewitness testimony (22%, p <0.001) (Weinberg & Baron, 1982).  A similar study by Sigler and Couch (2002) found similar results (Sigler & Couch, 2002).However, a meta-analysis conducted by Whitney (1987) found different results. Whitney conducted a meta-analysis of 5 studies comparing the different effects of eyewitness testimony on guilty verdict. He compared credible eyewitness condition to discredited eyewitness condition and discredited eyewitness to no eyewitness condition. He found that significantly more guilty votes were associated with the credible eyewitness condition compared to the discredited eyewitness condition (60% vs. 46.7% respectively, p<0.0001). Additionally, significantly more guilty votes were associated with the discredited witness condition compared to the no witness condition (46.7% vs. 33.5% respectively, p=0.0002) (Whitley, 1987).

In this study we will compare the three conditions of no eyewitness vs. eyewitness vs. discredited witness testimony to determine the effect on guilty verdict.

Method

Participants

The study participants were enrolled in General Psychology courses at the University of Massachusetts Lowell during the Spring semester, 2013. There a total of 121 participants, including 30 females, 91 males and 1 participant who declined to disclose the gender. Only 3 of the paricipants had prior jury experience. One participant was aged between 31-50 years and 120 were aged between 18-30 years. Study participants received one hour of research credit for their General Psychology course.  All General Psychology students are required to earn four research credits during the semester in which they take the course.

Materials and Measures

            To setup a case-like scenario on the minds of the participants, the researchers of this study used a case presentation that would involve the participants in the need to take a stand on whether or not the person being accused of a crime is indeed guilty or not. In the document to be passed on the participants, a description of the case is narrated. Noting all the elements possible for describing the details of the case, the scenario is presented at a much vivid visualization on the part of the readers/participants.

The case involves a robbery shoot out case that kills a man [the storeowner] and his five year old granddaughter in the hands of a supposedly suspected black man who robbed the store. During the incident, the eyewitness pointed out that the suspected fired the gun two times, aimed one at the child and another on the storekeeper. This testimony has been sworn and signed by the eyewitness accordingly.

To separate the results of the jury’s[participants] reaction, the situation or the characterization of the eyewitness has been imposed to be changed in each scenario based on the group of individuals who are supposed to release criticism on the presentation of the case and provide necessary judgment as required. At one point, the participants are held to realize that the eyewitness is a reliable source of information. On the other end, the reputation of the eyewitness is discredited. On another level, he is considered to be a black man, then the other case involves a white American man who presents the case at the witness stand. These separation of the characterization of the witness shall entail to measure how much the jury lets personal characteristics and stereotyped consideration in the part of the eyewitness affect their judgment over the value of the statement that has been released for the court to assess. Hence, through this approach, it is hoped by the researchers to accomplish data that would point out which of the four different characteristics of the eyewitness would largely affect the decision of the jury. From this point, the results are to be assessed regarding the intense position that eyewitness testimony imposes on the outcome of particular cases that are being heard and tried at court.

Procedure

            A 2 x 2 between groups experimental design was employed that included eyewitness testimony (credible vs. not credible) and defendant ethnicity (black vs. white) as independent variables.  The major dependent variables were measures of perceived guilt of the defendant and severity of punishment that should be received by the defendant.  Participants were recruited from General Psychology courses at UMass Lowell through an email generated by the administrator of Sona Systems, an electronic research management tool for human subject research.  Study participants were required to be at least 18 years of age and were allowed to participate in only one of the four hypothetical crime scene scenarios.  The four scenarios were differentiated based on the two independent variables utilized in the research:  eyewitness credibility (credible vs. not credible) and defendant ethnicity (black vs. white).  Upon logging into the study, participants were informed that the study was a web study and that they would only be identified to researchers by a numeric code that would not reveal their identity. After indicating their willingness to continue the study, participants were presented with one of the crime scene scenario and were asked a series of questions about the events.  The entire procedure required approximately 10 minutes.

Results

Dependent Variable:Guilt rating
Witness Condtion Defendant Ethnicity Mean Std. Deviation N
Credible Witness Black 4.50 1.456 30
White 4.97 1.377 30
Total 4.73 1.425 60
Discredited Witness Black 4.27 1.741 30
White 4.47 1.548 30
Total 4.37 1.636 60
Total Black 4.38 1.595 60
White 4.72 1.474 60
Total 4.55 1.539 120

 

            The table above refers to the witness condition and the ethnicity of the defendant. The standard deviations are basically low showing that the expected results were accurate. There is 95% confidence interval when dealing with this information, or a 5% margin of error. It can be determined that an empathy factor is also figured into the results, based on the information given.

Dependent Variable:Punishment Rating
Witness Condtion Defendant Ethnicity Mean Std. Deviation N
Credible Witness Black 2.54 1.179 24
White 2.36 .995 25
Total 2.45 1.081 49
Discredited Witness Black 2.17 1.367 30
White 2.66 1.396 29
Total 2.41 1.391 59
Total Black 2.33 1.289 54
White 2.52 1.225 54
Total 2.43 1.255 108

 

This table shows that the standard deviation varies greatly based on race. This could be due to empathy from the jury. Though it is stated that it is a jury of peers, this is not always the case. As well as the race of the eye witnesses can be figured into this information.

The study further implicated a result relative to the condition of determining how the participants understood and imposed their appeal on the situation regarding the guilt that was assumed and the punishment that was considered in par with what has been done by the defendant. Relatively, it the results insisted on the idea that the reaction of the jury towards the condition of the testimony was hugely affected by their racial identity. Given that the defendant was a black man, most of the participants who belong to the same race have been noted to impose that they are simply being stereotyped as criminals, hence making the defendant rather shown to have a specific possibility of being stereotyped as well. On the other end, white American participants were noted to react on the matter based on thinking about the case, how it is defined and how it is likely believable in consideration with the testimony of the witness. This indicates that the condition of thinking of the public [or in this case, the jury] in accepting the presentation of evidences and testimonies largely become affected by the possibilities of being identified along with the personality of the defendant himself. The personality and credibility of the one giving testimony is only an element considered as a contributing factor to the being or the condition of thinking of the jury as a whole. A larger scope of consideration that jury members usually give attention to include a great deal of defining the condition by which they understand the situation and how well they could put together the relation of the testimony with that of the evidences collected in relation to the case.

Discussion

            As based from the results presented in this study, it could be analyzed that the jury members look through different elements of consideration as they create a sense of distinction on whether or not to believe a case’s situation as it is being defined to them. Relating every single detail to the experiences they have had in life, it could be observed that the jury members have the liberty to connect the different conditions that make up the overall situation that defines the case overall. What imposes a sense of trust on the statement of the eyewitness is simply a relative distinction on how the jury finds human-based statement to make the cases even stronger.

Looking through the physical evidences more than that of the plain verbal presentations of eyewitnesses, jury members are able to make a distinctive indication on how much they intend to believe on matters as they happen and how they judge situations to fit  a particular case’s background which would be the basis of its resolution. Another factor that is involved with the outcome of a case is the amount of empathy shown to the defendant or eye witnesses by the juror. This empathy can often be measured by the race of each juror compared to the race of the defendant or the eye witness. Though maybe not blatantly, subconsciously people of the same race feel that there is a mutual understanding between them.

Though the jury plays a significant role in determining the fate of the defendant, it is shown that the judge in the case plays a significant role in the punishment aspect. Here is another area where empathy between races plays a role. Though these findings are significant, they do not contradict previous findings. This information has been regarded for a number of years, though the empathy factor cannot easily be measured.

It is also shown that cases involving eye witnesses often lean towards the outcome that the eye witness has persuaded the jury to see. If eye witnesses can testify that the defendant is guilty, the jury will most likely produce a guilty verdict. The same is true vice versa.

How much does the case define the being of the defendant apart from those of the victims create a manner of manifesting balance in seeing how the players of the case would be specifically understood by the jury members. This can many times times be predicted based on the races of all parties involved.  Overall, it could be agreed upon then that even though verbal testimonies are considered important, they are only a part of the bigger picture that is considered as the most comprehensive source of trusted data by the jury members at the point of releasing their final decision in whether or not to convict the defendant in the stand.

Although there was significant research accomplished in this matter, this study was still limited to the outcome. Some of the scientific principles within this study are hard to accurately measure, though there are studies showing specific results. There was also a time limit in gards to the due date of this study. One other limitation is that the writer does not have significant knowledge of this information and was limited to secondary sources.

Suggestions for future include an extended period of time to research this topic. Another suggestions would be to find a more scientific way of measuring some of the data, such as factoring empathy into the studies in some way in order to have a better understanding of how race effects eye witness testimony as well as individual jurors. It would also be helpful to use more primary sources in futute research.

Works Cited

Sigler, J. N., & Couch, J. V. (2002). Eyewitness Testimony and the Jury Verdict. North American Journal of Psychology, 142 148.

Weinberg, H., & Baron, R. (1982). The Discredible Witness. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 60-67.

Whitley, B. E. (1987). The Effects of Discredited Eyewitness Testimony: A Meta-Analysis. Journal of Social Psychology, 209-214.

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