Person Descriptions as Eyewitness Evidence

Authored by: Christian A. Meissner , Siegfried L. Sporer , Jonathan W. Schooler

Handbook of Eyewitness Psychology

Print publication date:  October  2006
Online publication date:  May  2014

Print ISBN: 9780805881073
eBook ISBN: 9781315805535
Adobe ISBN: 9781317777830


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Two teenage girls were enjoying their family vacation in a hotel hot tub one evening. Shortly after their parents had left them, the girls were approached by a stranger, who proceeded to join them in the hot tub. Following several minutes of conversation, the stranger attempted to molest the older girl by touching her “private parts.” The older girl struck the stranger in the face and told him to stop, and instructed the younger girl to find their parents. After the older girl shouted “rape” several times, the stranger finally exited the hot tub, gathered his belongings, and ran from the area. The girls would later describe the stranger as a male in his twenties, with no shirt, wearing tan/brown shorts and a shell necklace. He had dark hair, and a dark/suntanned complexion. Upon receiving the description, detectives released a BOLO (“be on the lookout”), and a suspect matching the description was detained 45 minutes later as he walked on the beach about a half-mile from the hotel. The girls were brought to the suspect and together identified him as the stranger they had encountered. The suspect was arrested for the crime, but prosecutors would later drop the charges when the suspect provided a detailed (and corroborated) alibi for his whereabouts at the time of the incident. Simply put, detectives had detained the wrong person.

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