3. The Unreliability of Eyewitness Testimony

Anyone who makes a false statement to court “with [the] intent to mislead” is guilty of perjury, an indictable offense punishable by up to fourteen years in prison. [1]

Perjury is the uncharitable interpretation of Sharon Stevens’ actions. It is impossible to know whether she wittingly or unwittingly misled the court when she testified in Donzel Young’s trial.

But Victor Malarek hints in the episode at evidence that police pressure may have been behind the sudden switch in Stevens’ testimony. [2] [3]

In the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, Sandra Guerra Thompson describes “police-generated eyewitness testimony” as a leading cause of wrongful conviction. “Heavy-handed tactics by the police have a tendency to produce false evidence of these types, especially when the individuals being questioned by police are particularly vulnerable, such as juveniles or those who are intellectually disabled or mentally ill,” writes Thompson. [4] According to the Innocence Project in the United States, 72 percent of wrongful convictions proven by DNA have involved eyewitness misidentification. [5]

Next: When is a Jump Justified?


Works Cited

[1] Criminal Code of Canada, R.S.C., s.131-2.
[2] Victor Malarek, David Kaufman, et al. “A Failure in System” The Fifth    Estate. Aired by CBC October 18, 1994. 39 min.
[3] Victor Malarek, interview by Simon Bredin, December 12, 2014. Unpublished.
[4] Sandra Guerra Thompson, "Judicial Gatekeeping of Police-Generated Witness Testimony," The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 102.2 (Spring 2012: 329-396. Accessed December 14 2014. <http://scholarlycommons.law.northwester n.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=7425&context=jclc>
[5] "Eyewitness Misidentification," The Innocence Project, <http://www.innocenceproject.org/understand/Eyewitness-Misidentification.php >