Innocence Projects all around the states are doing tremendous work to free innocent people that are victims of injustice. In Mark Godsey’s Blind Injustice, he discusses the everyday mistakes in the system that have landed innocent people in prison for many years. Godsey, the founder of the Ohio Innocence Project, mentions psychological mistakes humans make every day like cognitive dissonance, tunnel vision, or false memories.
Greg Brown was convicted solely on a neighbor’s eyewitness testimony who stated they remember seeing Brown standing outside of his own residency while his house was on fire. This witness did not come forward until a year after the incident, but a week after a $15,000 reward was offered to anyone with information. Browns cell mate came forward stating that Brown had confessed to starting the fires that day, and was told he would receive $5000 for his testimony.
Juries and judges tend to give much creditability and weight on an eyewitness’s memory and confidence. In a study by Elizabeth Loftus, an expert on eyewitness memory, faulty eyewitness testimony was the number one reason that lead to an innocent person being convicted. In times were an eyewitness testified, 72% of the time the defendant was convicted, and even when the witness was discredited, the conviction rate was still at 68% (Loftus, 1976). Not to mention the witness only remembered seeing Brown a year after the fire when their memory could have been altered by news reports and police officers. Loftus’ research also points out how memory is inaccurate and can be altered by recall of events in different settings. Expert testimony about eyewitness memory can help a jury understand how much weight to put on that testimony and take into consideration all of the factors playing a roll. Jury knowledge is curtail to a fair trial and could help innocent people stay out of prison.
Read more about Greg Brown’s case here.