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Memory and Law$
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Lynn Nadel and Walter P. Sinnott-Armstrong

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780199920754

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199920754.001.0001

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Inconsistencies between Law and the Limits of Human Cognition

Inconsistencies between Law and the Limits of Human Cognition

The Case of Eyewitness Identification

(p.29) 2 Inconsistencies between Law and the Limits of Human Cognition
Memory and Law

Deborah Davis

Elizabeth F. Loftus

Oxford University Press

This chapter considers the issue of whether the legal system assumes greater accuracy in the production and assessment of eyewitness identifications than the limits of cognition reasonably permit. It first reviews what is known about the limits of accuracy in eyewitness performance under optimal conditions, and the ease with which this maximum performance can be compromised by common real life witnessing conditions. Evidence is reviewed that, even under optimal conditions, witness accuracy does not reach standards of certainty beyond reasonable doubt. Discussion then turns to the problems faced by those who must judge witness accuracy, including: inadequacies in knowledge of determinants of face processing and memory accuracy; selective access to information relevant to factors known to affect witness accuracy; inadequacies of safeguards such as cross-examination of witnesses, and others. Implications for reforms in treatment of eyewitness evidence are discussed.

Keywords:   eyewitness, memory, judging, witness accuracy, admissibility, limits of cognition, reform

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