Witness Confidence and Certainty: Certainly Nothing to be Confident About

  • April 26, 2019
  • Alan D. Gold

The criminal justice system shuns the modern teachings of experimental psychology about the workings of the human brain, continuing to profess an abiding faith in the premise that each person - whether witness, juror or judge - knows all there is to know about their own mental processes, reliably can manage them, and accurately can assess their proper workings in themselves and others. 

In fact, the criminal justice system in all its operations would increase fact-finding accuracy and reliability by recognizing and adopting the robust and reliable teachings of modern experimental human psychology: Daniel Reisberg, "The Science of Perception and Memory: A Pragmatic Guide for the Justice System," (Oxford University Press; 2014) [hereinafter Reisberg].

Sometimes reality speaks with such force that the law must surrender its commanded naivety. Accordingly, the teachings of experimental psychology in the context of eyewitness identification forced their way into the courtroom because of the miscarriages of justice such unexamined evidence caused. In that eyewitness identification context the law accepted and developed one very important insight about witnesses.  It is the point of this article that the insight should apply throughout to any and all witnesses and is not be limited only to eyewitnesses.