Imagine the scene: it’s late on a Saturday night; you are leaving a bar with a group of friends. You’ve had a couple of gin and tonics and a few glasses of wine. You walk to a taxi rank with your friends, and as you do so, you witness a woman being mugged. The thief runs off with her bag. You get a good view of him as he runs past you. You do your good citizen’s duty, assist the woman, call the police and give a witness statement.
You are later informed that the mugger has been arrested and charged. Although you were the only person to have witnessed the attack, you won’t be called on to give evidence as you are considered to be an unreliable eye witness as you had been drinking.
As experienced Private Investigators, we have spent more time than most in court. And we know only too well the pitfalls of calling an unreliable eye witness. We’ve worked on cases where we have provided legal support, and have sought new witnesses for cases. We’ve always been wary of relying on information provided to us by those who had been drinking at the time of a significant event. We know too that if those witnesses were called, they would be given a hard time in the witness box for that very reason.
So it was with interest that we read of a study carried out by the Psychology Departments at the London South Bank University and Glasgow Caledonian University. Their study showed that rather than making the memory of an eye witness unreliable, alcohol may actually protect the memory of that witness. Indeed, they also found that in controlled tests, those eye witnesses who had not consumed alcohol were far more likely to misremember information and even more worryingly, were more susceptible to being fed incorrect information and then stating it to be fact.
The results of their study suggest that alcohol preserves the memory of an event, and prevents new or incorrect information from being absorbed. Of course, the quantity of alcohol and the time of its ingestion is significant, but this study does appear to challenge the established and commonly-held view that alcohol impairs memory, and in court cases makes an eye witness unreliable.
Here at Anderson Chance we pride ourselves on keeping up-to-date with all the latest techniques, methodologies and equipment at our disposal. A good private investigator is one who challenges and questions everything, so we welcome studies such as this that cast new light on perceived wisdom.
No one is suggesting that this means that we will soon see a string of inebriated people filling up the witness boxes of courts up and down the land. The findings are in their preliminary stages, and more research is needed. But it may mean that some witnesses could potentially be called who previously would have been discounted.