The Fallibility of Eyewitness Memory in the case of Jennifer Thompson

Essay by Churchee9324College, UndergraduateA+, January 2005

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Eyewitness testimony has always been a crucial component in criminal trials. Attorneys depend a great deal on this type of testimony, especially because it seems to be the most persuasive means in convincing the jury of a defendant's guilt. In the case of the rape of Jennifer Thompson, however, a very important question is raised. How can someone be mistakenly convicted of a crime? Because Jennifer appeared so confident in her eyewitness testimony, she easily convinced the jury that Ronald Cotton was guilty of committing the rape. Carefully examining this case from a psychological standpoint, one can clearly understand where the faults were made. There are many categories in which these faults can be classified, more specifically that of overconfidence and confirmation bias. These faults also relate to studies performed by various psychologists such as Gary Wells and Elizabeth Loftus.

During the early hours of the morning, Jennifer's house was broken into by a man who ended up raping her.

Jennifer made a conscious effort to remember details of the perpetrator while the rape was occurring. As soon as she saw a chance to escape, she ran to a neighbor's house and called the local authorities. She was taken to a hospital where she underwent the process of providing evidence for a rape kit. She was also questioned by police, where she recalled details of the man who had raped her: African American, male, dark eyes, etc. After her interrogation by the police, they informed her that another woman had been raped in the same area that same night just a few hours after Jennifer's rape had taken place. She also found out that another young woman had been raped, as well that night. Afterward, she was shown a photo collection by law enforcement and was asked to select a...