Judicial Discussion of Eyewitness Identification Evidence

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Abstract

To safeguard against unreliable eyewitness evidence in court, judges must be aware of recommendations put forth by empirical researchers and legal inquiries (such as the Sophonow Inquiry; Cory, 2001). However, we do not know how judges weigh and assess the reliability of eyewitness identification evidence in their decisions. 247 full-text reports of Canadian judicial trial and appeal decisions from 1980 to 2016 involving a discussion of eyewitness identification evidence were coded for key system (e.g., lineup administration) and estimator variables (e.g., experiencing trauma) known to impact eyewitness reliability. Judicial discussion of these variables was infrequent; however, judicial decision was sensitive to information available about how a lineup was administered as well as whether the eyewitness was perceived to have experienced trauma during the crime. Lack of consideration of other key variables during decision-making may indicate a potential lack of subject-area knowledge as well as possible judicial use of heuristics that minimise the concern about eyewitness evidence reliability in the case at hand.

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