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Annu Rev Psychol. 2003;54:277-95. Epub 2002 Jun 10.

Eyewitness testimony.

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1
Psychology Department, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa 50011, USA. glwells@iastate.edu

Abstract

The criminal justice system relies heavily on eyewitness identification for investigating and prosecuting crimes. Psychology has built the only scientific literature on eyewitness identification and has warned the justice system of problems with eyewitness identification evidence. Recent DNA exoneration cases have corroborated the warnings of eyewitness identification researchers by showing that mistaken eyewitness identification was the largest single factor contributing to the conviction of these innocent people. We review major developments in the experimental literature concerning the way that various factors relate to the accuracy of eyewitness identification. These factors include characteristics of the witness, characteristics of the witnessed event, characteristics of testimony, lineup content, lineup instructions, and methods of testing. Problems with the literature are noted with respect to both the relative paucity of theory and the scarcity of base-rate information from actual cases.

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