The idea that psychology has no business in a court room is no longer entertained by licensed professionals; most attorneys use psychologists to increase their chances of a win, and psychologists have always begrudgingly accepted the need for their services within the legal system. What many people still fail to recognize is the fact that law and psychology are still very much misunderstood, and that the more we know, the more it seems we need to learn.
Take the situation with Michael Brown as an example. Many people are aware that Michael Brown was a black male that was killed by a white police officer in Ferguson Missouri. While the officer’s actions were pardoned, there were numerous eyewitnesses who gave testimony that was in direct contradiction with one another. While some people testified that the officer took action that was within his rights, others testified that he did not.
What would lead a group of individuals who all saw the same thing to report completely different accounts of what happened? While some may say that it was because of dishonest testimony, the field of legal psychology might say this was due to something else.
A legal psychologist might explain that this situation could have resulted because people do not store memories as rewindable videotapes (DVDs, mpgs, or whatever you kids are working with these days). He or she might say that a person’s memories can be influenced by their surroundings as well as their mental state at the time they are trying to remember.
Many psychologists believe that people often store memories by witnessing an event and then remembering it in a way that records the underlying meaning of the situation that they witnessed. So, people store information in a way that makes the most sense to them.
Does that sounds like the most accurate way of convicting someone for murder? In countless cases throughout world history, eyewitness testimony has been used to sentence people to death. Is this fair? More importantly, is this effective?
While you may be wondering how all of this applies to you, I invite you to imagine a situation where you have been identified as the person who has abducted, robbed, and raped a young woman. It may be difficult. I would hope that such a horrific situation would be difficult to imagine, especially one in which you have been identified as the person responsible.
Imagine you are sentenced to 215 years in prison for this offense. Despite having an alibi and being 100% innocent, eye witness testimony easily convicts you. After serving 15 years, DNA evidence exonerates you of any wrongdoing and you are freed.
This situation actually happened to Marvin Anderson, and it could happen to you. These are the types of situations that put the need for studying law and psychology into perspective; it affects all of us, and it will continue to affect us whether we study it or not.
The field of law and psychology is not one that fails to reach every corner of the world nor is it one that does not deserve attention. I will continue to add my novice commentary to the subject and invite you to do the same.
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