Drunk eyewitnesses

I recently covered wrongful convictions in my Criminal Justice Policy class, and I was pretty thorough on the point of just how unreliable eyewitness testimony is.  Yet, foolishly, our court system all too often treats it likes its the gold standard.  If you’re not familiar with the topic or the amazing Ronald Cotton case, take a few minutes and watch this great 60 Minutes segment.

Anyway, I was thinking about this because Kevin Drum highlights some recent research that show drunk witnesses perform much better than sober witnesses.  Not that they perform well mind you, just equally poorly.  I enjoyed reading the comments of the original research as the “drunk” subjects had a BAC of .07%, leading to quite the discussion of the meaning of drunk and whether the results would be different were there BAC levels significantly higher.

Anyway, take home point– be very skeptical of eyewitness testimony whether drunk or sober.

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

2 Responses to Drunk eyewitnesses

  1. Deborah Ferry says:

    My husband once witnessed an armed robbery in a store. Afterwards, when giving statements to the police, people couldn’t agree on basic facts such as hair color or type of clothing.

    • Mika says:

      Yes, had a discussion with wife about what is the color of our neighbor’s car. She said it was red, I said it was brown, I went to check it out and it was grey. 3,5 years we have lived next door and our neighbor has had the same car all the time. Maybe.

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