Eyewitness Evidence: A Trainer's Manual for Law Enforcement  


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Eyewitnesses play a critical role in our criminal justice system. They are often essential to identifying, charging, and ultimately convicting perpetrators of crime and in some cases may provide the sole piece of evidence against those individuals. For these reasons, the value of accurate and reliable eyewitness evidence cannot be overstated.

Cases in which DNA testing has exonerated individuals convicted on the basis of eyewitness testimony tend to make headlines, but in actuality, the frequency of mistaken eyewitness identifications is quite small. The vast majority of eyewitness identifications are accurate and provide trustworthy evidence for the trier of fact.

Recognizing the weight accorded eyewitness evidence by judges and juries, the National Institute of Justice initiated a project in 1998 to research methods to improve the accuracy, reliability, and availability of information obtained from eyewitnesses. The Technical Working Group for Eyewitness Evidence (TWGEYEE), composed of experienced law enforcement investigators, prosecutors, defense lawyers, and psychology researchers, worked together to produce recommendations for the collection and preservation of this vital evidence. These consensus recommendations were included in the 1999 NIJ publication Eyewitness Evidence: A Guide for Law Enforcement.

Because of the complex issues associated with identification practices, TWGEYEE recognized that its recommendations may not be feasible in all circumstances. The Guide?s recommendations are not legal mandates or policy directives, nor do they represent the only correct courses of action. Rather, the recommendations represent a consensus of the diverse views and experiences of the technical working group members, who have provided valuable insight into these important issues. We expect that each jurisdiction will be able to use these recommendations to spark debate and ensure that its practices and procedures are best suited to its unique environment.

Law enforcement personnel can benefit from training based on the procedures recommended in the Guide. To assist law enforcement trainers with creating and instructing courses on eyewitness evidence, including the topics of interviewing witnesses and conducting lineups, TWGEYEE has developed the materials included herein. These detailed curriculum plans provide instructors with explanations grounded in research and practical exercises that can enhance learning. For example, this trainer?s manual includes a CD?ROM that can be used to guide students through composition of a mock photo lineup. It is our hope that, through these materials, more of our Nation?s law enforcement personnel will be trained to work effectively with eyewitnesses and maximize the reliable evidence obtained from them, to the benefit of criminal case prosecutions.

NIJ extends its appreciation to the Baltimore County (Maryland) Police Department and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Community Policing Institute (MARCPI) for their willingness to test the training materials included in this manual—as well as their time and effort in doing so—in the interest of delivering a better product to the Nation?s law enforcement community. NIJ is particularly grateful for the support of those who orchestrated and carried out the pilot testing of this manual: Captain Howard Hall, Sergeants Theresa McQuaid, Samuel Hannigan, and Melvin Teal, and Officers Scott Leonard and James Moss of the Baltimore County Police Department Training Academy; Director William Rogers of MARCPI; and Karl Bickel of the U.S. Department of Justice?s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. Thanks also are extended to the many law enforcement and legal practitioners from the Baltimore-Washington area who attended the pilot training course and provided valuable suggestions to refine these materials. Special thanks are extended to Detective Lieutenant Kenneth Patenaude of the Northampton (Massachusetts) Police Department for his selfless efforts in developing the CD?ROM that accompanies this manual. Finally, we thank the members of the TWGEYEE Training Panel for their extensive efforts on this project and their dedication to strengthening the value of eyewitness evidence in the criminal justice system, as well as the original TWGEYEE members, who continued their commitment to this project by reviewing and commenting on this manual throughout its development stages. We believe that the overall improvement in professional practices that will result from this project will ultimately lead to stronger evidence for criminal cases and reliable verdicts.

The TWGEYEE members have dedicated their work to the memory of David C. Niblack—steadfast working group member, devoted advocate, and also, friend.

Sarah V. Hart
Director, National Institute of Justice


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National Insitutes of Justice (NIJ)