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Join the conversation! There are now 27 comments on this chapter's page 91. So What? Who Cares?. What are your thoughts?
  1. Gregory T. Bogosian says

    3 problems with Pie’s argument: 1. Its circular. The defense’s entire point is that eyewitness testimony is not reliable evidence. This bypasses all of the reasons why one might think that eyewitness testimony is unreliable and just assumes that all of our intuitions that point to it being reliable are correct. 2. We know from the chapter on memory that memories change over time and with suggestion. The fact that the clerk knows who messed with his desk now does not mean that he would still know it if we waited 3 months and repeatedly suggested that someone else did it. 3. The fact that she knows his name means that he has met her before, and would have an easier time recognizing her and remembering her than would a witness who did not know the perpetrator.

    • >The defense’s entire point is that eyewitness testimony is not reliable evidence.

      I assume that Pi is replying specifically to DC’s last line on the previous page: there’s no weapon, no motive, no confession. All you need, she says, is an eyewitness.

      • Yeah, on the last page, DC asked for suppression of the witness ID and then began to opine:. “[W]hich again I point out are the only evidence…” It seemed like he’s been trying to make the argument that since the State only has an eyewitness account, their case is incredibly weak.

        I see this on /r/legaladvice all the time, where people have been conditioned to believe that without hard physical evidence, it’s impossible or unethical to get a conviction. That’s Pi’s point – eyewitness testimony IS evidence, and it can be enough evidence to convict. They SAW Pi do it. If the State charged her with Misdemeanor Obstruction of a Bureaucrat, they might not have any of those things DC mentioned… but they would have several witnesses who could all say “Yeah, she did it, I saw her do it.”

    • You’re too hung up on that 50% number. That doesn’t mean it’s a coin flip, that every eyewitness has a 50% chance of screwing up. What it means is that 50% of the time, there’s a mistake in what the person saw which makes the witness unreliable. Not all witnesses – that witness.

      Eyewitness testimony is reliable – if it wasn’t, the courts wouldn’t allow it at all. But it’s not infallible. That’s why you have cross-examination. To weed out the unreliable ones.

      • So what reliability? How do we really know whether eyewitness testimony is reliable? Is it just whatever the jury thinks is reliable or is their an external standard?

          • Because if the witness is within that 50% that isn’t flawed, it’s probably the best evidence you can get – “I saw this guy do it/run from the bank with money bags/stab me”. A reliable eyewitness is all you need to make your case.

            As for whether a particular witness’s testimony is reliable…yep, that’s what the jury decides. In truth, that’s the whole reason we have a jury in the first place – to decide whose story is truthful and whose isn’t. Which witnesses can be believed and which ones can’t. Which evidence is strong and which is weak. That’s a jury’s job as the “finder of fact”.

            • That doesn’t answer the question. How does the jury actually decide which witnesses are reliable and which ones are not, especially if they don’t know what the base rate of eye witness accuracy is? Also, how is any of this an argument for not informing the jury of what the base rate of eyewitness accuracy actually is?

              • Ignore that. Let me rephrase it. So how does the jury actually decide which witnesses are reliable and which ones are not reliable? How often do juries actually successfully spot inaccurate eyewitness identifications? Is their any way to tell if this system actually works more often than it doesn’t work?

                • By listening to the testimony. When two people have different stories, how do you decide which one is right? Again, this is what cross-examination is for. The other side will pick apart the story, look for inconsistencies, try and trip the witness up. A reliable witness will likely not stumble, an unreliable one will look…well, unreliable.

                  And again, the rate of witness accuracy is completely irrelevant. It’s not 100%, and it’s not 0%. That’s all the jury needs to know. How many other people told the truth, or lied, or were or were not mistaken, doesn’t matter at all. 100, 500, 1,000, or 100,000 mistaken IDs from other people has NOTHING to do with THIS witness and how accurate THEIR ID is.

                  I don’t have any idea how often an unreliable witness is believed, and vice versa, but if you can fool 12 people with your BS story after standing up to a vicious cross by a seasoned attorney, you’re one hell of a liar.

                  • Your argument hinges on cross-examination eliminating the vast majority of false identifications and I think that that is not true. Prosecutors prepare every witness for cross-examination. Even if the witness’s story is complete malarkey all of the obvious internal inconsistencies are going to get removed before the trial. Sure there could still be inconsistencies that the prosecution didn’t catch. However, if the prosecution didn’t catch them, then there is no guarantee that the counsel for the defense will catch them.

                    • …well, what’s the other option? Not allow any testimony at all? Gonna be very hard to convict anyone with trials like that.

  2. Gabe says

    I’m surprised by Pi’s cruelty to this Stan fellow.

  3. Oddstar says

    Is her father deliberately quoting Darth Vader here?

  4. Skippan says

    Pi clearly has a motive: to make a point.

  5. Taleweaver says

    Just out of curiosity: can someone be held in contempt of court if she (like Pi here) sits crosslegged on a table during a preliminary hearing like this one?

        • Yes, a judge can hold you in contempt of court for disrupting any formal judicial procedure, not just the actual trial.

        • The “court” in “contempt of court” refers to the judge — not the person herself, but rather the dignity of the position she holds.

          So if you mean her “office” as her role as judge, then yes, it counts whenever she is acting as a judge, wherever that may be.

          If you meant instead the physical location, that’s irrelevant. The courtroom isn’t her office — that room is called her “chambers.”

  6. Gregory T. Bogosian says

    @UsaSatsui: The other option is to actually inform the jury of all of the problems with eyewitness testimony that are common knowledge to the courts. You wouldn’t even need expert testimony, you could just put something in the jury instructions such as “due to the malleable nature of human memory, eyewitness testimony is only accurate 50% of the time.” That way jurors could know what we know from this chapter without an expert usurping their role as finder of fact.

  7. MikeA says

    If nobody (but an expert witness, who won’t be allowed) is allowed to say (and have it stick in the record) that eyewitnesses can be unreliable, then we are depending on the members of the jury “just knowing” (from life experience) about it. But how does that square with jury members not being allowed to consider anything (e.g. life experience) not presented in court?
    An example: My mother shared (in jury deliberation) her distrust of a witness, because they had testified that they could not see well “because it was too dark”. But she was celebrating her birthday on the day in question and her restaurant reservation was for 1/2 hour after the time in question, near the (outdoor) crime scene, and she had dined on the terrace in ample sunlight. Now, one of the attorneys could have presented a weather report for that day and town to rebut the witness, but they didn’t. Was she wrong to bring it up?

  8. Muzer says

    I’m really curious at to what the stunt was now on which you said on Twitter this page was based…

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