Eyewitness stand but not during pretrial investigations (Berman

Eyewitness testimony is the most important evidence
for jurors to make decisions in the court (Bell & Loftus, 1988). Lindsay,
Wells, Rumpel (1981), and Loftus’s (1974) study (as cited in Bell & Loftus,
1988) found that both positive and negative testimony have a critical effect on
mock juror’s judgements and convictions. Due to the extreme importance of
testimony on jurors’ decision making, the perceived credibility of eyewitness
testimony should be seriously considered (Bell & Loftus, 1988).

Previous study conducted by Berman, Garrett, Cutler, and
Brain (1996) investigated different types of inconsistent testimony’s effect on
jurors’ decision making. The mock jurors were asked to convict the defendant
when giving the following four cases of testimony: (a) consistent testimony,
(b) information given in court but not during the investigation, (c) conflicts
between on-stand version and pretrial version testimony, and (d) conflicts of
on-stand testimony (Berman et al., 1996). They found that mock jurors presented
with inconsistent testimony were less possible to convict and they thought the
defendant less guilty and the eyewitness testimony had less credibility. They
also found that these impacts were greater for inconsistencies than for testimony
given on the stand but not during pretrial investigations (Berman et al., 1996).

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The previous study focused on the idea of
inconsistencies and contradictions in eyewitness testimony, however they did
not study the influence of on-stand testimony and contemporaneous notes on
juror judgment. Therefore, inspired by the previous study conducted by Berman
et al. (1996), the current study examines the mock jurors’ decision making
based on three different situations of eyewitness testimony with one group of
mock jurors given only on-stand testimony by eyewitness, one group given
consistent contemporaneous notes, and one group given inconsistent
contemporaneous notes by eyewitness. Based on these three conditions, the
current study will not only prove the conclusions drawn in the previous study that
there is less credibility in eyewitness with inconsistent testimony but also investigate
how contemporaneous notes may help on convictions.

Berman et al.’s (1996) study has already concluded
that there is less credibility in eyewitnesses who present inconsistent
testimony, so it is reasonable to expect that consistent contemporaneous notes
may increase the credibility in eyewitness than just on-stand testimony in the
current study.

Results

Figure 1: A Bar plot showing the Group Means for Perceived Credibility
Ratings for three conditions, with 1 representing low credibility and 7
representing high credibility.

            As
shown in Figure 1, the mean perceived
credibility of the control condition is 4.3, the mean perceived credibility of
the consistent condition is 5.9, and the mean perceived credibility of the
inconsistent credibility is 2.4.

            Further statistical calculations of mock
jurors’ perceived credibility ratings for the three conditions were done. The associated
p-value of control condition versus consistent condition is 0.04, 0.03 for
control condition versus inconsistent condition, and 0.01 for consistent
condition versus inconsistent condition. All of these p-values are less than
0.05, which suggests that the effect of different eyewitness testimony on juror
decision making is significantly different.

Discussion

            As
expected, mock-jurors presented with consistent contemporaneous notes were more
likely to convict than those given inconsistent contemporaneous notes,
demonstrating that the results found by Berman et al. (1996) is true that eyewitnesses will
have more credibility if they present consistent testimony. The results of the
current study also supplement Berman et al.’s study in that participants
presented with only on-stand testimony had more credibility in the eyewitness than
those presented with inconsistent contemporaneous notes by the eyewitness.

However, they had less credibility in the eyewitness than those presented with
consistent contemporaneous notes.

             Kelley’s (1972) discounting hypothesis which
states that observers have less attention to the potential causes of a behavior
(as cited in Berman et al., 1996) supports the results of the current study from
theoretical perspective. Our experiment substantiates this idea that mock-jurors
tend to ignore the faulty memory and inaccuracy of witness when they recall in
the court. As a result, the credibility of witness who gives on-stand testimony
is higher than those who give inconsistent contemporaneous notes. As Berman et
al. (1996) mentioned, this does
not suggest the credibility in eyewitness concerning faulty memory or
contradictions in juror decision making, it
is discounting intimation that jurors may be easier to excuse witness’s faulty
memory than inconsistencies in contemporaneous notes. This conclusion slightly
differs from Berman et al.’s (1996) findings because their experiment was
conducted under a different condition where there is ‘on-the-stand contradiction’
scenario.

            However, faulty memory of
eyewitnesses cannot be neglected because it is a critical issue that will
greatly influence jury’s verdict in the court. Eyewitness research reveals that
jurors always have inadequate understanding of some findings and bad judgement
of eyewitness accuracy (Leippe, 1995). Therefore, a more precise experiment
should be conducted. Mock-jurors may be questioned about the credibility of
eyewitness under three more conditions than the current study where all
eyewitnesses only present on-stand testimony and the only difference is the
time interval between when the crime was committed and when the trial is held. The
time interval may be one week, one month, and six months. Less credibility in
eyewitnesses where there is a large time interval should be expected.

            It is commonly believed in the legal
system that counselors can take advantages of the inconsistencies in eyewitness
testimony in order to challenge a witness in jurors’ point of view (Brewer
& Burke, 2002). Our findings confirm that inconsistencies and non-note-based
testimonies have less credibility among mock-jurors. Therefore, in real legal
systems, counselors should stress the inconsistencies and inaccuracy of the
testimony

 in order to affect jurors’ understanding and
processing of the current evidence and also their decision making (Brewer &
Burke, 2002).