Eyewitness identification of multiple perpetrators

Authors Alicia Nortje, Colin G Tredoux, & Annelies Vredeveldt

ISSN: 1996-2118
Affiliations: PhD (Psychology) (UCT), Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Department of Psychology, University of Cape Town; PhD (Psychology) (UCT), Professor in the Department of Psychology, University of Cape Town; PhD (Psychology) (York), Department of Criminal Law and Criminology, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
Source: South African Journal of Criminal Justice, Volume 33 Issue 2, p. 348 – 381


To date, research and South African case law has largely ignored the memory burden experienced by witnesses to multiple-perpetrator crimes and failed to address the challenges that arise when administering identification parades for such crimes. Empirical research suggests that eyewitnesses to multiple-perpetrator crimes achieve low identification accuracy, which worsens with the addition of each perpetrator to be identified. Witnesses to multiple-perpetrator crimes also experience a unique memory task of matching criminal actions to perpetrators. Preliminary empirical evidence suggests witnesses perform poorly at this task. Although some international research documents the difficulties that officers experience when conducting identification parades, there is little evidence of how South African officers administer parades in the field. This article presents empirical evidence from a sample of detectives in the Western Cape showing that in-field administration of parades for multiple-perpetrator crimes are not uniform, and officers risk conducting parades that would not be considered fair. The article concludes that the current South African guidelines may profitably be revised, so that difficulties associated with administering parades for multiple-perpetrator crimes are alleviated.