The mind plays tricks on us. Sometimes, the mind messes with a memory or conjures up a mirage in the desert. Memory is fragile and susceptible to suggestion. When I was in my post-secondary psychology class last year, my professor showed us a video that was truly shocking to me. The video was about a rape case in Burlington, North Carolina. A young woman was raped and while she was being raped, she studied her attacker’s face. She chose a man out of the photo line-up. She chose a second man out of the physical line-up. She ended up choosing the exact same man both times. She then testified with a great deal of certainty that the man she had picked was her rapist. The man, Ronald Cotton, was found guilty and sentenced to fifty years to a life sentence in jail. Four years after being jailed, another man was found guilty of rape and went to the same jail.
Bobby Poole and Ronald Cotton both ended up working in the kitchen and the cooks would often get confused and call Cotton “Poole.” A fellow inmate overheard Poole admit to raping the young woman that Cotton was accused of raping. Cotton asked for another trial and this time he brought Poole to the stand. The young woman still insisted that Cotton was guilty and he went back to jail. Seven more years passed and the whole country became riveted by the OJ Simpson trial. When Cotton heard about DNA testing, he asked his lawyer if that could be done in his case. There was still a small DNA sample left. The sample was tested and Ronald Cotton was exonerated and Bobby Poole convicted.
Eyewitness testimony is a huge part of what convicts a person in a criminal trial. The Cotton case is simply one example of DNA testing proving that the wrong man was accused and convicted. According to the psychology professor that CBS interviewed when reporting on the Cotton exoneration, eyewitness testimony is extremely faulty but it is also the biggest contributing factor to a guilty verdict.
I think that eyewitness testimony should not be used as evidence. This opinion is mainly based on the video about Ronald Cotton. I truly believe that “eyewitness” testimony, if it is used in a trial, must be listened to with a grain of salt. Eyewitness testimony is faulty and that is most definitely proven in the case of Ronald Cotton.
Yes, an “eyewitness” is someone who was actually present at the scene of the crime; so, one would assume that that person knows what and who he or she saw. However, when you truly consider the matter, you actually should be very surprised that the eyewitness can even talk about the crime that he or she witnessed. Typically, when one thinks of a criminal trial, one thinks of a traumatic crime such as a rape. Traumatic circumstances tend to color how one perceives an event. Therefore, I believe that eyewitness testimony does more harm than good and should not be used in criminal trials.
You can search the Ronald Cotton case on YouTube. Search “Eyewitness Testimony Part 1 & 2” and it was posted by CBSNewsOnline.
(Kayla Murphy / email@example.com)