Professor Louise Bond-Fraser, English, and Dr. Ian Fraser, Psychology, are hoping their research on the fallibility of eyewitness testimony will change the approach to criminal investigations.

The pair was recently invited to share their findings with 40 criminal defence lawyers at the New Brunswick Legal Aid Services Committee conference in Moncton, NB, after Chief Operating Officer, Pierre Castonguay, read an article they had written in Solicitor’s Journal.

“One article in a law journal picked up by one person allowed us to present to 40 criminal defence lawyers. I don’t think many people outside the legal field have had that opportunity,” Louise said.

The opportunity served as a substantial step forward in spreading their research directly to those in the legal field.

“We realized criminal defence lawyers are the ones who are going to make the changes. If they keep harping on this stuff in the defence of their clients and the juries and judges have to listen to it, it’s going to change verdicts,” Ian said.

“You don’t assume because someone has chosen a suspect from the lineup that it’s a done deal. You question the lineup. You have to attack it every time.”

An integral part of their research involves testing members of the criminal justice system—lawyers, judges, police officers, potential jurors—on their knowledge of the unreliability of eye witness testimony.  The results of these surveys have been consistently low, which could lead to wrongful convictions in the courtroom.

“People who have been exonerated based on DNA evidence are lucky because not every case is a DNA case,” Louise said. “There will be all sorts of people who were wrongfully convicted without DNA evidence who are never going to get out.”

With criminal defence lawyers across the province armed with this information, the two are hopeful change will come.

“It’s one of those things where you wear at the stone and hope sooner or later something happens,” Ian said. “You’re never going to get rid of faulty eye witnesses, but you can minimize the impact by doing the right type of investigation.”

Getting Students Involved

Bond-Fraser and Fraser have been working on this research since 2005.  In that time, they’ve written one book, 14 journal articles, and three magazine articles. They’ve also made a point of including St. Thomas students in their research.

Of their numerous publications, 14 have been co-authored by students.

“One thing about STU is it’s small and undergraduate only, so we can give advantages that aren’t found at post-graduate institutions,” Louise said.

“Getting students involved has helped them learn a lot more.”

Janelle Marchand and Kyle Ferris are two recent graduates who have been involved with the pair’s research.  Marchand intends to pursue post-graduate studies with the hope of working in public policy or for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and Ferris is currently working toward his Master’s degree at Aberdeen University in Scotland.