The National Institute of Justice guide for eyewitness identification evidence: Can it improve juror decision-making?

Mark Robert Phillips, Florida International University


Mistaken eyewitness identifications of innocent lead to more false convictions in the United States than any other cause. In response to concerns about the reliability of eyewitness evidence, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) in 1999 published a Guide for the gathering and preservation of eyewitness evidence by law enforcement personnel. Previous research has shown that eyewitness identifications are more accurate when obtained using procedures recommended in the NIJ Guide. This experiment assessed whether informing jurors about the Guide can improve their ability to discriminate between eyewitness identifications likely to be accurate and those likely to be inaccurate and, if so, how to most effectively provide jurors with such information. Seven hundred sixteen U.S. citizens who reported for criminal jury duty participated. Half of the participant jurors read a summary of an armed robbery trial in which the police followed the NIJ Guide when obtaining an eyewitness identification of the defendant. The other half read about an identical case in which the police did not follow the Guide. Jurors received information about the Guide from a court-appointed expert witness, one of the attorneys in the case, the trial judge, the judge in combination with one of the attorneys, or from no one (in the control groups). Jurors then rendered a verdict in the case and answered questions about the evidence in the case. When an expert witness or the judge (either alone or in combination with one of the attorneys) informed jurors about the Guide, the jurors voted to convict defendants likely to be guilty and to acquit defendants likely to be innocent more often than did uninformed jurors assigned to a control group. These data suggest that informing jurors about the NIJ Guide using expert testimony or instructions from a judge will improve the quality and accuracy of jurors' verdict decisions in cases involving eyewitness identification evidence. However, more research is needed to determine whether the judge will remain an effective source of information about the Guide in a longer, more detailed trial scenario and to learn more about the underlying psychological processes governing the effects observed in this experiment.

Subject Area

Social psychology|Cognitive therapy|Law

Recommended Citation

Phillips, Mark Robert, "The National Institute of Justice guide for eyewitness identification evidence: Can it improve juror decision-making?" (2001). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI3018480.