- Published: November 7, 2012
- Written by Nicholas Tolat
In many court cases, civil and criminal, eyewitness testimony has been one of the most important tools in identifying guilt. Juries can be persuaded by confident testimony at the scene of the crime, which can sway the decision one way or the other. This is one piece of information that does not need an interpretation, like a psychologist or a neuroscientist, for the evidence to be considered by the jury. It is simply the observations that one person made at the scene, and his or her confidence in what happened can increase its likelihood of being accepted as truth. However, should this simple assumption always be the case? Recent research points to the contrary. Amanda Holmes and Charles Weaver III agree with previous studies that the correlation between confidence and accuracy seems to be weak at best. With that said, neuroscientists have been trying to find a better way to measure the accuracy of the eyewitness testimony. If this tool is being used as a key driver in determining guilt, the juries should at least have a way to determine its accuracy moving forward.
This is where neuroscientifc evidence, particularly brain scans, can find itself becoming more involved as it is developed in the future. Recently, neuroscience has been implicated in its ability for future lie detection or determining the accuracy of eyewitness testimony. The same article points to the fact that it can be used to determine the bias of a juror, to help allow a more objective analysis of our jury pool. Although many see this as a benefit to improve the criminal justice system, there is still much caution in going down this path. Brain scans and neuroscientific evidence will still involve interpreters of said evidence in which there may be disagreement between specialists. In addition, it may add complexity to a trial in which jurors rather hear the different perspective from the many eyewitnesses from the scene. Although everyone has a little different memory of what may have occurred, jurors may feel that it is their job to take in all this information to recreate the crime scene for themselves.
With this in mind, neuroscience can at least assist the jurors in their decision making process. Some jurors may want the extra information to know about the accuracy of the testimony while others do not want the process to get all jumbled up in scientific interpretation and jargon. At the very least, the legal system should give jurors all the tools necessary to come to a decision about guilt. As such, neuroscience can be an additional tool that can be added to the juries’ arsenal. Those who want to use can utilize it when presented in the court room while others can ignore it if they believe it muddles the entire proceeding. In the end, the advent of neuroscience appears to be a benefit for the criminal justice system as long as it continues to increase its fairness and accuracy in determining a person’s guilt.
Holmes, Amanda E., and Charles A. Weaver III. "Applied Psychology in Criminal Justice." Applied Psychology in Criminal Justice. 6.1 (2010): 47-61. Web. 6 Nov. 2012. http://www.apcj.org/documents/6_1_4Holmes.pdf.
Chen, Ingfei. "The court will now call its expert witness: the brain." Stanford Report. Stanford University, 19 2009. Web. 6 Nov 2012. http://news.stanford.edu/news/2009/november16/greely-neurolaw-issues-111909.html.