Wisconsin Innocence Project Director Keith Findley recently asked a group of lawyers what they remembered as the most famous quote from “Star Trek.” Many were shocked to learn that “Beam me up, Scotty,” actually was never uttered on the show. Findley used the example to illustrate a central cause of misidentification – the human memory is flawed, and the brain fills in gaps based on outside information and experience.
Eyewitness identification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing, Findley said, but reforms implemented in Wisconsin and other states are preventing injustice by reducing the number of misidentifications.
The people making these misidentifications are not ill-motived; “These are not people who are liars, who are intentionally committing perjury; they are people who honestly believe in their eyewitness identifications, and they’re just flat wrong about them,” Findley said.
Psychologists have been studying human memory for more than 100 years, but it seems the criminal justice system is only now starting to pay closer attention to their findings, said Findley.
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. (Wisconsin Law Journal, 06/02/08)