Florina Altshiler Article Published in Stetson Journal of Advocacy and the Law
Florina Altshiler’s article, entitled “Employing Generally Accepted Scientific Principles to Address False Eyewitness Testimony Through Trial,” appears in the 2021 Stetson Journal of Advocacy and the Law. Altshiler is a partner at Russo & Gould LLP, an instructor of trial advocacy at Columbia University, School of Professional Studies, and an adjunct professor at both Daemen College and Buffalo State College.
In the article, Altshiler discusses the issues associated with eyewitness testimony. In particular, she examines why eyewitness testimony is flawed, and how lawyers are able to utilize both psychology and social science principles in order to understand the specific issues that arise with eyewitness testimony throughout the course of a trial.
Altshiler explains the nuances involved with memories. She discusses how they are formed through a variety of components including the attitude of a witness as well as environmental conditions, which are the interactions a witness has with other individuals. Altshiler notes that during a trial, a lawyer can go after the environmental conditions that contributed to a person’s recollection and showcase how those conditions could have led to the formation of a certain memory versus what may have actually occurred.
To illustrate the issues that can happen with eyewitness testimony, Altshiler discusses a 2015 event where a man attacked a police officer with a hammer in New York City and was shot in response. Even though there were a number of eyewitnesses of this event, nearly every account was incorrect and disproven through video evidence. Despite what occurred, a number of individuals actually recounted seeing an unarmed man shot by police while on the ground and in handcuffs. Altshiler writes that a potential cause of this was the high volume of media coverage surrounding police brutality in 2015 which may have created false memories from eyewitnesses.
Later in her article, Altshiler highlights the issues with testimony that are caused by lineups and suggestive questioning. She discusses how there is research that supports the fact that lineups should actually be conducted by those who are unaware of who the suspect is in the lineup. Research supports that lineups should be conducted by administrators who do not know which lineup member is the suspect. Additionally, Altshiler also notes how there are studies that have shown how witnesses significantly alter how they describe a suspect after learning their height and weight. She also writes that there are studies that highlight how speakers can potentially plant biasing information in a witness.
At the end of her article, Altshiler talks about other factors that may influence testimony, such as the “weapon focus effect,” where witnesses focus on a gun or a knife during an event rather than the suspected perpetrator. Ultimately, she says that there are more and more states that are adopting jury instructions that address the issues that are explored within the article. Read the full article on the Stetson Journal of Advocacy and the Law website.