Joint Institute of Applied Ethics and

Experts and Institutions Seminar

Wednesday 26 January 2011  2.15 pm

Room no BJ-TR2

Brynmor Jones Library

    

Andrew Roberts

Associate Professor, Law School

University of Warwick

 

Expert Evidence on the Reliability of Eyewitness Identification: A Non-Epistemic Rationale

Reliance on eyewitness identification evidence in criminal trials is both commonplace and problematic.  There have been persistent calls for the courts to make greater use of the accumulated findings of relevant psychological research by permitting experts to address juries on the frailties of the cognitive processes that precede a witness's claim that the suspect is the culprit. Those who advocate the reception of expert evidence usually claim that without expert testimony fact-finders are unable to satisfactorily distinguish eyewitness identification evidence that is reliable from that which is not; that fact-finders tend to place too much weight on this kind of evidence; and that expert evidence will suppress this tendency.

In this paper Professor Roberts argues that expert evidence based on the generalisations that are used to describe the findings of experimental psychological research is not particularly helpful to a tribunal of fact; that it reveals nothing about the accuracy of the identification made by the testifying witness, and; that if the expert evidence is accepted it can do no more than make the jury sceptical of that witness’s testimony. He does not claim, however, that there should be a prohibition on the reception of expert evidence concerning the reliability eyewitness identification evidence. It should be admissible as a means of redressing the unfairness suffered by the accused where the state fails to fulfil its obligation to do all that can reasonably be expected of it to avoid convicting innocent defendants. He will suggest that expert testimony is justified (i) where the state has failed to prescribe pre-trial procedures that are likely to produce the most accurate outcomes, and (ii) if such prescription exists, where the state's agents have failed to adhere to the prescribed procedures.