Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Novel New Jersey Eyewitness Instruction Induces Skepticism but Not Sensitivity

In recent decades, social scientists have shown that the reliability of eyewitness identifications is much worse than laypersons tend to believe. Although courts have only recently begun to react to this evidence, the New Jersey judiciary has reformed its jury instructions to notify jurors about the frailties of human memory, the potential for lineup administrators to nudge witnesses towards suspects that they police have already identified, and the advantages of alternative lineup procedures, including blinding of the administrator. 

This experiment tested the efficacy of New Jersey’s jury instruction. In a 2×2 between-subjects design, mock jurors (N = 335) watched a 35-minute murder trial, wherein identification quality was either “weak” or “strong” and either the New Jersey or a “standard” instruction was delivered. Jurors were more than twice as likely to convict when the standard instruction was used (OR = 2.55; 95% CI = 1.37–4.89, p < 0.001). 

The New Jersey instruction, however, did not improve juror's ability to discern quality; rather, jurors receiving those instructions indiscriminatingly discounted “weak” and “strong” testimony in equal measure.

Below:  Proportion of Guilty verdicts (and 95% confidence intervals) by Instruction and ID Quality

Full article at:

By:  Athan P. Papailiou, David V. Yokum, Christopher T. Robertson
James E. Rogers College of Law, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, United States of America

David V. Yokum
Department of Psychology, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, United States of America

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