From Tradition to Evidence: Rethinking the Law on Eyewitness Identification in Estonia
Keywords:eyewitness identification, lineups, evidence-based guidelines, legal safeguards, identification accuracy, eyewitness recommendations
Eyewitness identification is a procedural act that is influenced by various psychological factors. Scientific research has demonstrated that the way identification procedures are conducted and administered affects witnesses’ identification decisions and their confidence in those decisions. Research into these variables has also led to best-practice guidelines for conducting eyewitness identification. However, the legal system in Estonia, as have those in many other places, has been slow to adopt the recommendations and has adhered to traditional principles instead, which is reflected in the law on eyewitness identification. This article analyses whether Estonia's law governing eyewitness identification is consistent with evidence-based recommendations. It first presents an overview of variables related to the reliability of identification evidence over which the criminal-justice system has control, and then compares the most important findings from scientific literature (and the resulting best practices) with the current law. Finally, it highlights specific areas of law wherein adjustments could produce better alignment with the findings from scientific research. The authors conclude that the law today, leaving many decisions up to law-enforcement entities, displays a need for additional official guidelines. The article highlights the importance of using scientific research to inform legal practices.