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Alcohol-intoxicated witnesses: A review of the current literature and new steps forward.

Conference contribution
Authors Angelica Hagsand
Emma Roos Af Hjelmsäter
Pär-Anders Granhag
Claudia Fahlke
Anna Söderpalm Gordh
Published in Nordic Network for Psychology and Law (NNPL), 7-8 November 2014, Oslo, Norway
Publication year 2014
Published at Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology, Department of Psychiatry and Neurochemistry
Department of Psychology
Language en
Keywords Alcohol, eyewitnesses, memory, recall, recognition, literature review
Subject categories Cognitive science, Applied Psychology


Eyewitnesses often provide central investigative leads in many criminal cases, and are often the sole source of evidence. Many witnesses are under the influence of alcohol during the crime, and/or during the investigative interview and line-up. There is evidence that jurors and expert witnesses perceive intoxicated witnesses as more cognitively impaired and less credible than sober ones. The few studies that have examined the effects of alcohol on witness memory for events cast doubt on whether expert witnesses’ and jurors’ inferences are warranted. That is, in experimental studies, intoxicated witnesses rarely differ from sober or placebo witnesses in terms of accuracy and quantity of information recalled or in their ability to recognize a perpetrator in a lineup. At the few occasions when a detrimental effect of alcohol on witness memory has been found it resulted in small differences between alcohol and sober or placebo participants, barely of any practical significance for law enforcement personnel. The present literature review indicates that intoxicated witnesses might be better than their reputation, and that witnesses who have a low to moderate intoxication level (BAC <0.10%) can be rather reliable sources of information in criminal investigations. However, limitations in the previous studies are highlighted and new steps of further research is discussed.

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