For Immediate Release: May 20, 2022
DURHAM, N.C. — Eyewitness identification has come a long way in the past seven years — the last time the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) summarized the state of research in that area. There have been important new research contributions and increased adoption of reforms in related practices by courts, lawmakers, and law enforcement in the United States, according to a new report released by the Wilson Center for Science and Justice at Duke Law.
New Directions in Eyewitness Evidence describes the research that has been conducted since the NAS report appeared in 2014. It offers recommendations for police professionals, lawyers, and judges, as well as for the design and statistical analysis and reporting of eyewitness identification studies, and hence a more solid foundation for eyewitness identification evidence.
“Eyewitness errors have been a leading cause of wrongful convictions and fortunately, real strides have been made in efforts to improve eyewitness identification procedures,” said Brandon Garrett, an author of the report and Faculty Director of the Wilson Center. “In recent years, the body of scientific knowledge concerning eyewitness evidence has grown, resulting in promising new discoveries.
“We are so excited to present this interdisciplinary report, which represents a multi-year effort to summarize experimental research, systematically review the research, and examine changes in law and police procedures. It was such a pleasure to collaborate with Chad Dodson, Karen Kafadar, and Joanne Yaffe on this project and to benefit from the contributions of so many leading experts in the field.”
Dodson and Kafadar, both from University of Virginia, as well as Yaffe, from University of Utah, were co-authors of the report with Garrett. The report was made possible with support from Arnold Ventures.
“Eyewitness identification has long been a critical tool for law enforcement agencies, but incorrect identifications undermine the ability to solve crimes and impede the administration of justice,” said Jeremy Travis, Arnold Ventures executive vice president of criminal justice. “These findings will help us build the body of evidence necessary to craft best practices so that police and prosecutors can elevate community safety while avoiding wrongful charges.”
Report findings are based on a systematic scoping review of empirical research in eyewitness identification, a workshop with researchers and legal professionals, and surveys of leading respondents. The report also offers promising future directions for both research and practice. The NAS report encouraged research in new directions leading to new developments in the field, and those are described in the report.
“This eyewitness identification report produced in connection with the Wilson Center describes the results of a five-year collaboration among researchers from these disciplines, Kafadar described. “Eyewitness identification-related studies in the memory, sociology, legal, and psychology literatures were catalogued; the relationship between eyewitness identification accuracy and face-memory accuracy was quantified; [and] courtroom confidence was found to influence jurors’ decisions.”
Dodson added that while the report reviews new developments since the 2014 NAS report, it also highlights some important findings not included in either the NAS report or a 2020 report by the American Psychology-Law Society that summarizes eyewitness identification research.
“I helped to review the research on some of the experimental findings that are related to eyewitness identification accuracy, such as the value of how quickly (or slowly) an eyewitness makes a lineup identification,” he said.
The report includes keynote videos Professor Thomas Albright and The Honorable Judge Jed Rakoff, NAS report co-chairs.
“By combining high quality research with an eye for practice, this report is a great step forward in improving the quality of eyewitness evidence,” said Dr. William Crozier, Wilson Center Research Director. “Bringing together a team of researchers and advisors from a variety of experiences and backgrounds helped shape the work immensely, and we hope it will be informative for practitioners and future researchers alike.”
The Wilson Center for Science and Justice brings together faculty and students at Duke University in law, medicine, public policy, and arts and sciences to pursue research, policy and law reform, and education to improve criminal justice outcomes. Our three main areas of focus are: accuracy of evidence in criminal cases, equity in criminal outcomes, and behavioral health needs.