Drunk witnesses to crime 'just as accurate' as sober witnesses, study suggests

·2-min read

Drunk witnesses to crime are as accurate as sober people when recalling details of what they have seen, a study has suggested.

Researchers at Abertay University and London South Bank University discovered that although people who have consumed alcohol are less confident and remembered fewer details, they are just as unlikely to make mistakes.

Another finding was that people who talk about what they have witnessed with others can provide less reliable testimony.

The study only observed people who had mild to moderate alcohol intoxication - with a minimal delay before being asked to remember information - but its authors urged judges and jurors to bear their results in mind.

Sober and drunk participants were shown videos of a mock theft and then asked to recall details.

Those who were intoxicated did not make more errors despite providing less detailed information.

They tended to have less confidence, assuming their testimony was less reliable when in fact it was not.

Before being asked to explain what happened, half of those studied were given the opportunity to discuss the video with someone who had watched a different version of events.

This led to 87.7% of people giving at least one piece of inaccurate information that they had heard about rather than seen themselves.

They were seven times more likely to incorporate errors into their testimony than those who recalled alone.

Dr Julie Gawrylowicz of Abertay University, co-leader on the study, said the findings are "contrary to perceptions commonly held by the general public and many professionals working within the criminal justice system".

"Our work also shows that alcohol does impact recall completeness but not accuracy," she said, "so mild to moderately intoxicated witnesses may be regarded as a reliable source of information, even if questioned in an intoxicated state."

She added that the research highlights the risk of witnesses reporting information they did not see but were told about.

"It may be important to minimise co-witness discussion where a crime has been witnessed in public settings, such as bars and restaurants," she said.

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