Week 2 Discussions. Estimator Variables and Eyewitness Identification

| December 16, 2015

Discussion 1: Estimator Variables and Eyewitness Identification
The Innocence Project is an organization that attempts to reform the criminal justice system by exonerating wrongly convicted individuals by conducting DNA testing. According to the Innocence Project, more than 75% of overturned convictions involve mistaken eyewitness identifications (Innocence Project, 2011). An extensive body of literature supports the organization’s claim that eyewitness testimony is often unreliable. Nevertheless, a confident eyewitness can have a profound impact on a jury.
Factors related to the crime scene that can affect the accuracy of eyewitness identification are referred to as estimator variables. Some examples of estimator variables include the degree of visibility at the crime scene, the proximity of an eyewitness to an assailant, and the presence or use of a weapon. Other estimator variables that might impact accuracy include a witness’ state of mind and race. When the race of the perpetrator and the eyewitness are different, the likelihood of misidentification increases (Innocence Project, 2011). With many possible estimator variables that might impact eyewitness identification, forensic psychology professionals must be able to identify these variables and consider how they might influence the reliability of an eyewitness testimony.
Innocence Project (2011). Eyewitness Misidentification. Retrieved from: https://www.innocenceproject.org/understand/Eyewitness-Misidentification.php
To prepare for this Discussion:
Review Chapter 7 in your course text, Forensic and Legal Psychology. Focus on examples of estimator variables, and consider how they might influence reliability of eyewitness identification.
Review the Wells & Olson article, Eyewitness Identification. Focus on current findings in the literature regarding estimator variables and their influence on eyewitness testimony.
Review the media piece, “Witness Reliability.” The media player will automatically appear at the top of the Week 2 Resources page. Once the player loads, press the play button. While watching, consider estimator variables that might influence the reliability of the eyewitnesses such as age, race, proximity to assailant(s), lighting, presence of weapon, and so forth.
Think about who might be the most reliable eyewitness and who might be the least reliable eyewitness based on estimator variables.
With these thoughts in mind:
Post by Day 3 your choice of the most reliable and least reliable eyewitnesses, and explain why with reference to estimator variables. Be specific, and justify your response with at least one reference to a peer-reviewed article from the Walden Library and at least one reference to the Learning Resources. Be sure to cite references in APA format.
Be sure to support your postings and responses with specific references to the current literature and the Learning Resources.
Read a selection of your colleagues’ postings.
Respond by Day 5 to postings from at least two of your fellow group members in the following way:
Challenge a colleague’s posting, and support a different perspective.
Return to this Discussion in a few days to read the responses to your initial posting. Note what you have learned and/or any insights you have gained as a result of the comments your colleagues made.
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Discussion 2: Children as Eyewitnesses
In the mid-1980s, the U.S. news media reported on a number of disturbing cases in which allegations of child sexual abuse had been made against well-respected community members. One of the most famous cases involved the McMartin family, owners of a preschool in California. The investigation began when a mother reported to the police that her son had been abused by Ray McMartin, a male teacher at the school.
Throughout the course of the investigation, the police conducted several hundred interviews of children along with their parents, all current and former clients of the preschool. Allegations ranged from inappropriate touching of children to children being forced to engage in oral and anal sex. Even more bizarre were claims made by some young “victims” that they were sexually attacked in secret tunnels underneath the school. Equally startling were allegations that the McMartins mutilated animals and forced the youngsters to touch their corpses. At the end of the criminal investigation, the police arrested four family members and three teachers (PBS Online, 1998).
Even for a trained professional, eliciting accurate details from an adult eyewitness badly shaken by the ordeal of witnessing a crime can be a formidable task. For example, the use of a weapon can unnerve an adult witness to such an extent that the likelihood that he or she can accurately recall details of an assailant’s features decreases significantly. Now imagine the daunting task faced by a detective assigned to interview a six-year-old alleging the heinous crime of child sexual abuse. Costanzo and Kraus (2015) cite research that found that memories of children are “negatively impacted by a stress-inducing interview style” (p. 144). This finding calls into question the reliability and accuracy of information elicited from a child during an interview dealing with such a delicate subject. Moreover, other researchers found children are particularly vulnerable to suggestibility when responding to interview questions posed by an adult.

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