Eyewitness testimony doesn’t really work, and yet our criminal justice system continues to rely on it to a disturbing extent. A short video posted this week by the World Science Festival shows a sobering example of just how wrong witnesses to a crime often are.
During a panel on the science of justice, a (staged) robbery unfolded: a man ran onstage, stole the iPad from the hands of a panelist, and then ran off. And even though they’d just seen the “crime” happen, when the audience members were asked to pick out the thief from six mugshots, 83 percent of them accused the wrong man. (And 20 percent of them unknowingly accused the cameraman.)
“I would surmise that those of you who got it wrong are probably no less confident than those who [got it right],” said Saul Kassin, the victim of the fake crime and a psychologist at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “And the worst part is, the confidence you have now will only grow by the time you get into a court room, because you will receive confirmation after confirmation. So by the time you appear in court, you are so dead sure of it that any jury who hears your testimony will believe you.”
(Thanks to Pacific Standard, which spotted this great little video before we did.)