Category Archives: Witness testimony

Free access to Sage journals gives you a chance to read all about science and pseudoscience in policing

Once again Sage Journals is throwing its archive open – you can get free access to all Sage journals until 31 October if you register first. A great opportunity to stock up on articles in journals that you or your library don’t subscribe to.

Can I, in particular, recommend you take a look at the latest issue of Criminal Justice and Behavior? It’s a special on “Pseudoscientific Policing Practices and Beliefs” pulled together by guest editor Brent Snook. Scott Lilienfeld and Kristin Landfield’s overview of science and pseudoscience is just ok (I don’t think it’s as good as it could be), but there are useful reviews (among others) of hypnosis in a legal setting (Graham Wagstaff), of detecting deception (Aldert Vrij), and of false confessions (Saul Kassin). These reviews will prove invaluable if you’re new to these areas of research or need a refresher.

Also in this issue, Snook and colleagues examine why criminal profiling is so seductive, when much of what passes for profiling is simply – according to the authors – “smoke and mirrors”. They conclude:

There is a growing belief that profilers can accurately and consistently predict a criminal’s characteristics based on crime scene evidence… We contend that this belief is illusory because a critical analysis of research on CP [criminal profiling] showed that the field lacks theoretical grounding and empirical support.

And there’s an extraordinary and provocative critique of the FBI’s programme to introduce Critical Incident Stress Debriefing for its agents, co-authored by a former agent who was involved in the programme. The authors bemoan the fact that although the business of “law enforcement is inextricably tied to facts, objectivity, organization, and high standards of proof” (p.1342), the FBI did not (according to the authors) apply the same standards when evaluating a stress debriefing programme for its agents. The evidence for the effectiveness of CISD is scant, argue the authors (and there is some evidence that CISD may even be harmful to people exposed to severe trauma). So, the authors explain: “We are thus compelled to consider how an idea so poorly grounded and so seriously discredited came to hold so tenacious a footing in the employee assistance practices of what is arguably the world’s most sophisticated law enforcement agency” (p.1342). Newbold, Lohr and Gist’s concluding comments could serve as an epitaph for the entire issue:

Pseudoscience finds its foothold where the blurring of boundaries allows the imperatives of evidentiary warrant shared by both domains to become compromised. It takes many years of training and experience to become competent as either a law enforcement agent or a psychologist, and either role requires strong focus and strict boundaries to be executed effectively. Police officers who want to play shrink and psychologists who want to play cop run a serious risk of blurring those boundaries.

Here are the contents in full:

  • Brent Snook – Introduction to the Special Issue: Pseudoscientific Policing Practices and Beliefs
  • Scott O. Lilienfeld and Kristin Landfield – Science and Pseudoscience in Law Enforcement: A User-Friendly Primer
  • Michael G. Aamodt – Reducing Misconceptions and False Beliefs in Police and Criminal Psychology
  • John Turtle and Stephen C. Want – Logic and Research Versus Intuition and Past Practice as Guides to Gathering and Evaluating Eyewitness Evidence
  • Brent Snook, Richard M. Cullen, Craig Bennell, Paul J. Taylor, and Paul Gendreau – The Criminal Profiling Illusion: What’s Behind the Smoke and Mirrors?
  • Graham F. Wagstaff – Hypnosis and the Law: Examining the Stereotypes
  • William G. Iacono – Effective Policing: Understanding How Polygraph Tests Work and Are Used
  • Saul M. Kassin – Confession Evidence: Commonsense Myths and Misconceptions
  • Aldert Vrij – Nonverbal Dominance Versus Verbal Accuracy in Lie Detection: A Plea to Change Police Practice
  • Katherine M. Newbold, Jeffrey M. Lohr, and Richard Gist – Apprehended Without Warrant: Issues of Evidentiary Warrant for Critical Incident Services and Related Trauma Interventions in a Federal Law Enforcement Agency
  • David C. Flagel and Paul Gendreau – Commentary: Sense, Common Sense, and Nonsense

Special issue of Applied Cognitive Psychology on eyewitness research

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The latest issue of Applied Cognitive Psychology (Volume 22 Issue 6, September 2008) is a special devoted to Basic and Applied Issues in Eyewitness Research, edited by Brian H. Bornstein, Christian A. Meissner. Published to mark the centenary of the publication of “On the Witness Stand” by Hugo Munsterburg, one of forensic psychology’s founding fathers, this issue contains a feast of articles by some of the top names in the field, and will be a valuable resource for anyone interested in eyewitness psychology.

The editors explain why the publication of Munsterberg’s text is worth marking:

Hugo Munsterberg, who was one of the earliest researchers on eyewitness memory, is probably the first figure to advocate strongly for a wider reliance by the courts on psychological research… [His] efforts were largely rebuffed … and since that time, there have been repeated calls for the courts to take eyewitness research (indeed, all social science research) more seriously, accompanied by a range of judicial responses ranging from ready acceptance to outright rejection (Monahan & Walker, 2005). Nor are all psychologists of one mind on this issue. Indeed, even Munsterberg himself, who is widely regarded as one of the founders of applied psychology, at times urged caution in applying psychological research findings to real-world problems…

Bornstein and Meissner go on to highlight two other reasons to revisit the issue of applying psychology in the courtroom: First, despite the increasing acceptance of eyewitness research in the courtroom (they say the “American courtroom” but of course other countries’ judicial systems have also taken note) there remain disagreements about the quality and ecological validity of such research. And second, the editors suggest that the “trend for greater acceptance of research findings by the legal system has, in the opinions of some observers, created a situation in which there is an overemphasis on practical questions, accompanied by a lack of theoretical relevance”. In other words, applied researchers need to pay equal attention to theoretical and practical implications of their research.

The articles in this issue set eyewitness research in a historical context and address the specific issues associated with such research and its applications. Highly recommended.

Contents include:

  • Basic and applied issues in eyewitness research: A Münsterberg centennial retrospective – Brian H. Bornstein, Christian A. Meissner
  • Lessons from the origins of eyewitness testimony research in Europe – Siegfried Ludwig Sporer
  • Hugo who? G. F. Arnold’s alternative early approach to psychology and law – Brian H. Bornstein, Steven D. Penrod
  • Toward a more informative psychological science of eyewitness evidence – John Turtle, J. Don Read, D. Stephen Lindsay, C. A. Elizabeth Brimacombe
  • A “middle road” approach to bridging the basic-applied divide in eyewitness identification research – Sean M. Lane, Christian A. Meissner
  • Study space analysis for policy development – Roy S. Malpass, Colin G. Tredoux, Nadja Schreiber Compo, Dawn McQuiston-Surrett, Otto H. MacLin, Laura A. Zimmerman, Lisa D. Topp
  • The importance (necessity) of computational modelling for eyewitness identification research – Steven E. Clark
  • Estimating the impact of estimator variables on eyewitness identification: A fruitful marriage of practical problem solving and psychological theorizing – Kenneth A. Deffenbacher
  • Eyewitness confidence and latency: Indices of memory processes not just markers of accuracy – Neil Brewer, Nathan Weber
  • Münsterberg’s legacy: What does eyewitness research tell us about the reliability of eyewitness testimony? – Amina Memon, Serena Mastroberardino, Joanne Fraser
  • Theory, logic and data: Paths to a more coherent eyewitness science – Gary L. Wells

See also:

British Psychological Society guidelines on memory

witnessappealThe British Psychological Society has published guidelines on “latest evidence on human memory and how that evidence could be of use to the legal professions”. It’s a very handy overview prepared by experts in the field.

As the principal authors Martin A. Conway and Emily A. Holmes explain in the introduction to the report:

The guidelines and key points should then be taken as they are intended – as guidelines and not absolute statements. Because they are based on widely agreed and acknowledged scientific findings they provide a far more rigorously informed understanding of human memory than that available from commonly held beliefs. In this respect they give courts a much firmer basis for accurate decision-making.

According to the press release (11 July):

The report has some sobering key points on the reliability of people’s memories in court cases. Key points of ‘Memory and Law’ include:

  • The content of memories arises from an individual’s comprehension of an experience, both conscious and non-conscious. This content can be further modified and changed by subsequent recall
  • Any account of a memory will feature forgotten details and gaps
  • People can remember events that they have not in reality experienced

You can find out more about the research and download the full report via the BPS website here.

Photo credit: Martin Deutsch, Creative Commons License

Line-ups, eyewitness memory and camera perspective bias in videotaped confessions

Three articles of forensic interest in the June 2008 issue of Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied (Volume 14, Issue 2):

  • Lineup composition, suspect position, and the sequential lineup advantage by Curt A. Carlson, Scott D. Gronlund and Steven E. Clark
  • Forgetting the once-seen face: Estimating the strength of an eyewitness’s memory representation by Kenneth A. Deffenbacher, Brian H. Bornstein, E. Kiernan McGorty, and Steven D. Penrod
  • Camera perspective bias in videotaped confessions: Evidence that visual attention is a mediator by Lezlee J. Ware, G. Daniel Lassiter, Stephen M. Patterson and Michael R. Ransom

Quick links – investigations, courtroom, punishment, profiling and more

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Quick links from around the web and blogosphere:

Investigations and courtroom :

The Sunday Times (25 Nov) reports on a new facial morphing technique called EvoFIT “that transforms the Photofit faces of criminal suspects into animated caricatures up to seven times more likely to be recognised than standard likenesses”. The system was developed by UK psychologists, one of whom commented that using the new system leads to “…a massive jump in the level of recognition [which] is really reliable”. Lots more information including plenty of downloadable papers on the EvoFIT webpages .

The Eyewitness Identification Reform blog highlights scholarly commentary on the effectiveness of cross-examination for getting at the truth of eyewitness evidence.

Following a detailed and extensively researched analysis, Prof. Epstein [the author of the commentary] concludes that the highly revered truth-seeking tool of cross-examination, while perhaps effective at rooting out liars, is utterly ineffective at uncovering the truth when faced with a witness who is confident, but honestly mistaken about what he or she remembers – which accounts for the majority of cases in which mistaken identification has led to wrongful conviction.

Mo over at Neurophilosophy (a great blog that doesn’t often post on forensic issues) discusses research on creating false memories by doctoring photographs. Participants who saw altered images had different memories of the events in the photographs:

For example, those participants shown the doctored photograph of [a] protest in Rome…in which figures placed in the foreground give the impression of violence, rated the event as being significantly more violent and negative than it actually was. In their comments, they also provided false details, such as conflicts, damages, injuries and casualties that did not appear in the photos and were not documented at the event.

The whole issue of Applied Cognitive Psychology is about ‘cognition and the media’ and includes other papers on the fallability of memory, which will be of use to anyone interested in eyewitness memory.

Anne Reed at the fabulous Deliberations blog reports on research into the Grim Power of Grim Evidence. Apparently “jurors presented with gruesome evidence, such as descriptions or images of torture and mutilation, are up to five times more likely to convict a defendant than jurors not privy to such evidence.”

Punishment:

The ever-interesting Karen Franklin comments on juvenile detention, and starts by posing some simple questions with disturbing answers. Did you know, for instance, that only two nations sentence children to life in prison? According to Karen, they are Israel, with 7 child lifers, and the USA, with an astonishing 2,387 child lifers.

Michael Connolly at Corrections Sentencing offers a detailed discussion of an article which “calls for broad application of empirical psychology to the study of the motive behind punishments”. The article is in press and due to appear in 2008.

  • Reference: Carlsmith, K.M., & Darley, J.M. (in press). Psychological aspects of retributive justice. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, M. Zanna, Ed. (Elsevier, NY, 2008) vol. 41.

Psychopaths:

The criminal psychopath is the topic of a post at Top Two Inches, and over at the Deception Blog, a comment on research on whether psychopathic liars give themselves away through their verbal behaviour.

Profiling:

Crimson Shadows posts (with permission) the full text of ex-FBI profiler John Douglas’s response to Malcolm Gladwell’s article on profiling that appeared in the New Yorker last month. Douglas argues that Gladwell’s article misrepresents the science and practice of profiling.

Miscellany:

Terrific analysis of an fMRI study linking paedophilia to differences in the brain over at the Brain Ethics blog,  critiquing both the method and the interpretation of the results of this study.  In sum “at the least, just because the brain shows a difference, one cannot conclude anything beyond this about causation.”

The BPS Research Digest has also included a couple of forensically relevant posts recently: detecting feigned mental retardation and inter-ethnic violence.

As well as the post on juvenile detention mentioned above, Karen Franklin’s posted a lot of other good stuff recently too, including pointing us towards a Canadian news article on false confessions, commenting on how the UK is considering stricter controls on the use of expert scientific evidence, and a great piece on tracking serial killers in South Africa.

Romeo Vitelli’s Providentia blog reports on an intervention program for young victims of violence, child abuse and brain development, and an usual case of car fetishism.

Photo credit: bigeoino, Creative Commons License

New articles on eyewitnessing

witnessappealA few new articles on eyewitnessing that caught my eye (natch) recently:

Daniel Wright in the October 2007 issue of Memory ponders the impact of eyewitness identifications from simultaneous and sequential lineups:

< P> Recent guidelines in the US allow either simultaneous or sequential lineups to be used for eyewitness identification. This paper investigates how potential jurors weight the probative value of the different outcomes from both of these types of lineups…[Participants] had to judge the guilt of the suspect and decide whether to render a guilty verdict. For both simultaneous and sequential lineups an identification had a large effect, increasing the probability of a guilty verdict. There were no reliable effects detected between making no identification and identifying a filler… These findings are important for judges and other legal professionals to know for trials involving lineup identifications.

Also in the October 2007 issue of Memory, Timothy J. Perfect, Ian Dennis and Amelia Snell from Plymouth University (UK) report on the effects of local and global processing orientation on eyewitness identification performance:

Recent work has demonstrated that performance on a simultaneous target-present photographic line-up can be enhanced by prior global processing orientation, and hindered by prior local processing orientation induced by processing Navon letter stimuli. A series of studies explore the generality of this processing bias effect using either videotaped scenarios or live interactions. Five experiments demonstrate that these effects are seen across a range of test stimuli, test formats, and test instructions. These data inform the processes engaged in by witnesses when making line-up identifications and indicate that it may be possible to improve the accuracy of witnesses making such judgements.

Finally, in press in Acta Psychologica, James Ost and colleagues report on the effects of confederate influence and confidence on the accuracy of crime judgements. Acta Psychologica

Building on recent work which has investigated social influences on memory and remembering, the present experiment examined the effects of social pressure and confederate confidence on the accuracy and confidence of eyewitnesses. Sixty undergraduate participants watched a video of a staged mugging and then answered questions about the video out loud in the presence of either one or three confederates who had also watched the film with them. Unbeknownst to the participant, the confederate(s) always gave incorrect responses to four out of the eight questions. Participants and confederates were also asked to give confidence scores out loud for each of their answers. Again, unbeknownst to the participant, the confederate(s) always expressed either high or low confidence scores for the incorrect information, depending on condition. Participants gave fewer correct answers, and were less confident, in the presence of three, as opposed to one, confederates. Participants were also more confident, yet no more accurate, when the confederate(s) gave high, as opposed to low, confidence scores. Thus the presumed independence of evidence given by multiple witnesses cannot be safely assumed.

Photo credit: Martin Deutsch, Creative Commons License

Quick links

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Having neglected this blog somewhat in recent weeks I find myself now overwhelmed with interesting snippets from around the web and blogosphere. Here are just a few that caught my eye:

The Eyewitness Reform Blog reports on a conviction “overturned for failure to “seriously consider” expert testimony on eyewitness factors”: “The court didn’t go as far as to say that it was error to exclude the expert testimony, but citing Illinois case law, found that it was error to fail to provide a reasoned basis for its exclusion.”

The Eyewitness Reform Blog also highlights the recent publication of an article in the NIJ Journal on making eyewitness identification in police line-ups more reliable.

Convicted conman Frank Abnegale claims that a combination of technology and living in “an extremely unethical society” has made crime easier: “You can build all the security systems in the world; you can build the most sophisticated technology, and all it takes is one weak link — someone who operates that technology — to bring it all down” (hat tip to Slashdot).

Some great posts from Romeo Vitelli at Providentia recently, including the tale of a psychotic priest killer, an exorcism case in Singapore, the killer who boasted about how easy it was to lie to psychiatrists, Guy de Maupassant’s struggle with neurosyphilis and two articles on shell shock.

Scott Henson over at Grits for Breakfast has also had some interesting posts up in the last few weeks, including a critique of the “policy many police and probation departments have adopted of rounding up all the registered sex offenders in their community into custody on Halloween night to keep them from having children come to their door” (see also Karen Franklin’s post) and a comment on the fact that although Americans are less likely to be victims of crime, their fear of crime just keeps rising.

Forensic psych Karen Franklin highlights some interesting (and free) articles on sex offending in the journal Sexual Offender Treatment. Whilst I’m talking about Karen, I’ll point you to a great little piece she wrote in September in which she demolishes a few myths and provides some practical advice about what it takes to become a forensic psych.

Michael Connolly at Corrections Sentencing points us towards the impressive set of evaluation resources over at the Bureau of Justice Assistance.

Carnival Against Sexual Violence 34 is up at Abyss2Hope.

Photo credit: bigeoino, Creative Commons License

New issue: Journal of Forensic Psychiatry & Psychology 18(3)

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Journal of Forensic Psychiatry & Psychology 18(3) is now online. Follow the link to the publisher’s website for abstracts and access to full text articles.

Contents include:

  • Theory of mind function, motor empathy, emotional empathy and schizophrenia: A single case study – Karen Addy; Karen Shannon; Kevin Brookfield
  • The development of a scale for measuring offence-related feelings of shame and guilt – Kim Wright; Gisli H. Gudjonsson
  • An audit of the association between the use of antipsychotic medication and bone density measurement in female patients within a special (high security) hospital – Jane Orr; Liz Jamieson
  • A study of forensic psychiatric screening reports and their relationship to full psychiatric reports – Pål Grøndahl; Stein E. Ikdahl; Alv A. Dahl
  • Staff responses to the therapeutic environment: A prospective study comparing burnout among nurses working on male and female wards in a medium secure unit – Rajan Nathan; Andrew Brown; Karen Redhead; Gill Holt; Jonathan Hill
  • Evaluating innovative treatments in forensic mental health: A role for single case methodology? – Jason Davies; Kevin Howells; Lawrence Jones
  • The identification and management of suicide risk in local prisons – Jane Senior; Adrian J. Hayes; Daniel Pratt; Stuart D. Thomas; Tom Fahy; Morven Leese; Andy Bowen; Greg Taylor; Gillian Lever-Green; Tanya Graham; Anna Pearson; Mukhtar Ahmed; Jenny J. Shaw
  • The validity of the Violence Risk Scale second edition (VRS-2) in a British forensic inpatient sample – Mairead Dolan; Rachael Fullam
  • Criminal barristers’ opinions and perceptions of mental health expert witnesses – Ophelia Leslie; Susan Young; Tim Valentine; Gisli Gudjonsson
  • The Michael Stone Inquiry: A somewhat different homicide report – Herschel Prins

New issue: Psychology, Crime & Law, 13(3)

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Psychology, Crime & Law, 13(3), June 2007 , is now online. Follow the link to the publisher’s website for abstracts and access to full text articles.

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Contents include:

  • The education of jury members: Influences on the determinations of child witnesses – Crissa Sumner-Armstrong; Peter A. Newcombe
  • Vehicle-related crime and the gender gap – Claire Corbett
  • The features of a good offender treatment programme manual: A Delphi survey of experts – Anna McCulloch; Mary McMurran
  • The relationships between alcohol-aggression proneness, general alcohol expectancies, hazardous drinking, and alcohol-related violence in adult male prisoners – Mary McMurran
  • Stereotyping, congruence and presentation order: Interpretative biases in utilizing offender profiles – Benjamin C. Marshall; Laurence J. Alison
  • Are old witnesses always poorer witnesses? Identification accuracy, context reinstatement, own-age bias – Rachel A. Wilcock; Ray Bull; Aldert Vrij
  • Influences of accent and ethnic background on perceptions of eyewitness testimony – Lara Frumkin

Greater choice for vulnerable witnesses

gavelThe UK Ministry of Justice is proposing a number of changes to support and protect vulnerable witnesses (press release, 22 June):

Introducing greater choice on how young people give evidence in court is among proposals published today that place victims and witnesses at the heart of the Criminal Justice System. Giving evidence in court can be a daunting task for children and young people, particularly when it is against people they know, including family members. A third of witnesses would not have been able or willing to give evidence if special measures were not available to help them through the process.

[…] Measures being considered include the use of video recorded pre-trial cross-examination for a small number of the most vulnerable young witnesses; enhanced use of technology such as remote live links and concealing the visual image of some children to protect them and help them give evidence.

The MoJ also highlights a research study giving some background to ‘special measures’ for vulnerable witnesses:

Photo credit: vitualis, Creative Commons Licence