Memory Not Reliable, Court Says

New Jersey judges are now required to explain to jurors that the human memory is prone to errors.

By | July 30, 2012

Flickr, ~BostonBill~

Earlier this month (July 19), new legislation passed by the New Jersey Supreme Court requires state judges to explain to jurors that eyewitness accounts are not always reliably because “human memory is not foolproof.”

“Eyewitness identification evidence is seen by jurors as being trustworthy and reliable,” Cornell University psychologist Charles Brainerd told Wired. “The science shows exactly the opposite.”

“Under the best conditions, people have about a 50/50 chance of getting it right,” he added.

Indeed, the majority of wrongful convictions in the United States results from misidentification by an eyewitness—such as when a person is asked to pick a suspect from a lineup—according to Wired.

The state’s decision to include this memory disclaimer stemmed from the 2004conviction of Larry Henderson, who was found guilty of manslaughter in relation to a fatal shooting in Camden. The ruling was appealed in 2008. The Supreme Court agreed to take the case, but only if an investigation into the reliability of New Jersey’s identification procedures took place, the Associated Press reported. This investigation recommended that state police change their witness identification methods and that courts start treating identifications more scientifically, thus putting less weight on an individual’s memory.

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Avatar of: Edward R. Mikol

Edward R. Mikol

Posts: 1457

August 15, 2012

Does the Court also mention that Courts are fallible?

Or that water causes a pencil to look "broken" when immersed in a glass?

How silly is this ruling on things that anyone's common sense already knows?

Avatar of: Edward Meeker

Edward Meeker

Posts: 1

August 16, 2012

Actually the research for more than a couple of decades now has shown this is one of the most significant problems in the Justice system and reflects an essential misunderstanding of what memory is. Memory is reconstructed from cues, not a fixed recording. Any messing with the cues can change memory. Just think about those family arguments over past details. The real problem in the court system is that most people believe it is a fixed recording and will often believe eye witness over physical evidence. In other words, common sense here is mostly and essentially wrong and leads us to a lot of erroneous conclusions. Even this is only one part of the problem, in terms of the legal system, because we also do not necessarily see all that is happening around us, but the common belief is that everyone will see everything. The result of this is not only do some innocent get convicted, but that many guilty get away. One very good book, that speaks of this a lot is, The Invisible Gorilla.

Avatar of: Edward R. Mikol

Edward R. Mikol

Posts: 1457

August 24, 2012

Then it has to be assumed that the jurors will not remember the injunction correctly anyway, therefore there's no point in making the point.

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