Discussion: Memory Distortions
Consider eyewitness testimony, a facet of the judicial system that relies on the soundness of memory for its effectiveness. The following story demonstrates the grave consequences inherent in certain kinds of memory distortion.
In the days following Jennifer Thompson’s 1984 rape by an unknown assailant, law enforcement officials presented her with a “photographic lineup.” It was composed of local individuals who loosely fit Thompson’s description, including one man the police considered a likely suspect in the attack. Police and the prosecution relied on Thompson’s eyewitness testimony as a critical building block in the case against Ronald Cotton. Thompson’s memory-based selection of Cotton’s image eventually brought him to trial as a defendant.
Jennifer Thompson’s eyewitness testimony led to the conviction of Ronald Cotton for rape. Thompson described memorizing the details her attacker’s appearance that fateful night so that she might later help to catch him. Based on Thompson’s testimony, the prosecution won, and Cotton received a sentence of life plus 54 years in prison.
After serving nearly 11 years, Cotton was exonerated on the basis of DNA evidence. In the years since Cotton’s release from prison, he and Thompson have reconciled. They now travel together throughout the United States, speaking about the lack of reliability of eyewitness testimony in criminal cases. Unreliable eyewitness accounts of crimes serve as one example of memory distortion. Consider factors in the Cotton case that may have affected the accuracy of Thompson’s memory.
In this Discussion, you examine factors that might influence and create distortions of memory. You also explain potential consequences of memory distortion on eyewitness testimony.
Innocence Project. (n.d.) Eyewitness misidentification. Retrieved April 25, 2012, from http://www.innocenceproject.org/understand/Eyewitness-Misidentification.php
With these thoughts in mind:
By Day 4
Post a brief description of factors that might influence and create distortions of memory. Then explain how one of those factors might create a memory distortion. Provide an example to support your response. Finally, explain three consequences of memory distortion in the context of eyewitness testimony. Justify your response using the Learning Resources and current literature.