Dr Ryan Fitzgerald –
Live, video and photo identification: Which eyewitness identification procedure best facilitates recognition?
What do you hope to achieve as a result of securing the funding?
My goal is to learn how best to administer an identity parade. The basic recipe is to have an
eyewitness inspect a ‘parade’ of individuals and decide whether one (or none) of the parade members is the person who committed the crime. However, there are many ways to administer an identity parade. Witnesses in South Africa view live identity parades, similar to how identification procedures tend to be depicted in popular films. Live parades are also used in the USA and Canada, but in those countries it is far more common for witnesses to see photographs of the parade members (“mugshots”). Here in the UK, recent legislation has led to the widespread use of video technology to present identity parades. The variation across jurisdictions begs the question: Which one works best? By securing this funding, I can bring the scientific and legal communities closer to an answer.
What is the potential impact of the research likely to be?
Although changes to identification practices may take time, the project has the potential to influence policy in the UK and abroad. Policymakers and law-enforcement organisations require a high standard of evidence before adopting new procedures and, irrespective of the research outcomes, significant political hurdles will need to be overcome in order to revise or replace an existing identification system. These short-term challenges notwithstanding, the project could lay the foundation for systemic changes in how identity parades are administered. If one identity parade medium is found to be superior to the alternatives, jurisdictions currently using an inferior medium may consider changing how they administer identity parades. The use of more diagnostic identification procedures would facilitate correct identifications of guilty suspects and also prevent false identifications of innocent suspects.
What does it mean to you to get the funding?
The ESRC funding will allow me to investigate this topic with greater rigor than has previously been possible. The use of live identity parades is challenging because actors need to be paid to appear for every day of testing. Photo and video materials also need to be constructed on the day of testing to ensure that the comparison between the live and photo/video conditions is not confounded by changes in appearance over time. The costs associated with the testing procedures have led researchers to avoid using live identity parades, resulting in a significant gap in the literature that this project will help to fill.
How is the work progressing?
The work is in the early stages of development. The grant activities are not set to commence until December 2016 (several months from the time of writing). However, I am currently liaising with a team of international collaborators to ensure the project commences smoothly.
What are the benefits your research is hoping to bring about?
The project findings could benefit various members of society. The direct beneficiaries are eyewitnesses, who would benefit from improved identification procedures that increase the probability that they will identify the person who committed the crime and decrease the probability that they will misidentify an innocent person. Law enforcement investigators will better understand how the medium can affect the reliability of identification evidence. Innocent suspects would obviously benefit from their reduced risk of mistaken identification and wrongful conviction. Taxpayers may also benefit, as wrongful conviction cases commonly result in windfall payments to the exoneree in an attempt to compensate for the miscarriage of justice. Taxpayers may also benefit if the findings support the use of a cost-effective procedure, such as video or photo identity parades, that does not require parade members to be paid for each identification procedure.
What opportunities for further research might come out of this study?
With the recent introduction of video identification parades, there are vast opportunities for following up this project with further research. The eyewitness identification literature dates back to the 1970s, but most of what we know has been found using photo identification procedures. This project will provide a foundation for this promising new area of research.
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