In honour of National Storytelling Week, we’re exploring a more imaginative way of sharing scientific research – through storytelling. Sharing stories is an age-old way to connect to others, learn about the world around us, and even shape future events. Here at ResearchPod, our aim is to bring science to the public – and what better way to do so than by imagining how research could have a dramatic impact on somebody’s life?
Listen now to explore how Dr Hagsand’s research on how alcohol influences the reliability of eyewitness testimonies could play out in the courtroom…
The courtroom crackled with tension as the trial unfolded. Prosecutor Emily Reynolds stood calmly, determined to crack the stony defence led by attorney Robert Stevens.
The linchpin of the prosecution’s case was the testimony of Amanda Foster, friend and last person to see the victim alive. Emily, skilfully directed her questions to build on Amanda’s account of that fateful night, painting a picture of the events that led to the untimely demise of Amanda’s friend.
In the courtroom’s charged atmosphere, Emily methodically built up to a crucial point – the amount of alcohol Amanda had drunk, and whether that meant she could be considered a reliable eyewitness. .
‘Ms Foster, would you agree that the party that night was quite chaotic?’ Emily inquired, her tone measured but probing.
Ralph hesitated, ‘Well, yes, it got a bit wild, but I remember what I saw. I’ll never forget that night.’
‘Wild indeed. Would you say alcohol was flowing freely?’
Ralph nodded reluctantly, ‘People were drinking, yes.’
Emily carefully put forth the question, ‘And would you also agree that alcohol can cloud one’s memory?’
Amanda hesitated again, ‘I mean, maybe a little, but I remember the important stuff.’
Emily stepped back. ‘I have no more questions at this time, your honour.’
The prosecution, confused but willing to take what they felt was an easy way to discredit Ralph’s testimony brought their expert witness, Dr Jeffrey Thornton to the stand. His testimony asserted that alcohol would render any eyewitness completely unreliable, no matter the quantity imbibed. Emily, undeterred, subtly manoeuvred her cross-examination to lay the foundation for the her ace in the hole.
As Dr Thornton confidently explained the intricacies of alcohol’s impact on memory, Emily seized an opportunity.
‘Dr Thornton, are you familiar with the work of Dr Angelica Hagsand from the University of Gothenburg?’
The courtroom hushed, attention pivoting to the unexpected mention of the eminent researcher.
Dr Thornton hesitated, ‘Yes, but her findings are not pertinent in this case.’
Emily pressed on, ‘I think it’s important to let the jury decide whether this is pertinent or not. Her recent study, published in the Journal of Cognitive Psychology, suggests that witnesses with high blood alcohol content can provide accurate accounts under certain conditions. Are you aware of this?’
The mention of Dr Hagsand’s study hung in the air, creating a palpable shift in the dynamics of the trial. Emily strategically quoted the research that found that witnesses’ face recognition memory is not affected negatively by any quantity of alcohol, leaving the jury to contemplate the implications.
In his counterarguments, Attorney Stevens sought to undermine the credibility of Dr Hagsand’s research, painting it as an outlier in the scientific community. However, Emily rebutted each and every one of these comments, pointing out the collaborative studies carried out with the police in Sweden as well as laboratory experiments that gave rise to her findings. Emily used the research to highlight the importance of considering environmental factors, emotional intensity, and the significance of the event in assessing the reliability of memory.
The courtroom became a battleground of legal wit and scientific expertise with the jury observing the back-and-forth, tasked with deciphering the complex interplay of law and science.
In the end, the jury rendered a verdict of not guilty. The courtroom, once charged with tension, erupted into a flurry of reactions. Emily Reynolds, flanked by her legal team, faced the media with poise, acknowledging the significance of Dr Hagsand’s research in shaping her strategy to find justice.