Questioning potential witnesses or persons of interest is an important
part of any sexual assault case, particularly the potential victims. But
with such traumatic cases, how can we guarantee the testimony is accurate
to avoid a possible false conviction? False memories have been an underlying
issue since they were first brought to light after a study in the 1980s.
The study found that Freudian theories regarding depression, anxiety, and
low self-esteem could be signs of repression, or the subconscious blocking
out and deeply suppressing a traumatic event. In instances where this
occurs, psychoanalysis would have to perform “memory recovery”
techniques, such as hypnotic regression and guided imagery. Combined with
their own confirmation bias, these psychologists could create clear memories
of events that never happened, sometimes including gruesome details.
How False Memories Can Affect Child Sexual Assault
In some cases, law enforcement and those who question a potential victim
may contaminate their memory accidentally without knowing it. This can
create situations where a witness’s recall can be influenced by
this contamination, and thus lead to false testimony being presented to
a jury and a false conviction of an innocent person.
For example, if a child undergoes psychoanalysis and the examiner suspects
they may have been the victim of sexual assault, the examiner might continually
question the child about any contact he or she had with a relative or
family friend. While the child may have no memory of the instance, the
repeated questioning may cause the child to develop detailed memories
of an incident in which sexual assault occurred. This can lead to a guilty
verdict on the victim’s word where the victim fully believes the
accused committed the act while the accused never did any such thing.
The Guardian, Professor Tim Valentine discussed a well-documented instance of false
memories from a 1999 British Murder trial. Barry George stood trial for
the murder of Jill Dando with three witnesses to the case. The first identified
him but two of his neighbors made no identification. All three witnesses
left together and discussed the case. The next time they were asked to
make an identification, they all identified George.
Berry Law Firm has combated false memory cases like these. Since 1965, Berry Law Firm
has helped their clients preserve their reputations and freedoms from
these highly-stigmatized and difficult cases.
Request an initial consultation today by calling Berry Law Firm at 402.817.6550.