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The advent of DNA testing has made it uncomfortably clear that our criminal justice system often gets things wrong.
Things go wrong for a variety of reasons, but many of them touch on science, or rather the lack of a scientific foundation for a number of forensic techniques.
But in 70 percent of the cases where DNA has overturned a conviction, it also contradicted the testimony of one or more eyewitnesses to the events at issue.
According to a new perspective published in PNAS, that shouldn’t surprise us.
The paper’s author, Salk neuroscientist Thomas Albright, argues that we’ve learned a lot about how humans perceive the world, process information, and hold on to memories.
And a lot of it indicates that we shouldn’t value eyewitness testimony as much as we do.
Still, Albright offers some suggestions about how we can tailor the investigative process to compensate a bit for human limitations.
Persistence of memory
Albright has some history in this area, as he co-chaired a study group at the National Academies of Science on the topic. His new perspective is largely a summary of the report that resulted from the group, and it’s an important reminder that we have sound, evidence-based recommendations for improving the criminal justice system.
Failure to implement them several years after the report is problematic.
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