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Shari Berkowitz

Assistant professor of psychology tapped for expertise on memory and eyewitness testimony in high-profile rape case

Posted: 06/21/2012

Memory expert Shari Berkowitz, a Roosevelt University assistant professor of psychology, recently was a consultant for the legal team that helped a wrongfully imprisoned man to obtain a $5 million out-of-court settlement from the village of Woodridge, Ill.

Berkowitz studies faulty/false memories that can be an issue in legal cases reliant on eyewitness testimony. She was a consultant for the legal team that had been preparing for trial representing Marcus Lyons in his federal civil case for damages against the village of Woodridge.

In this capacity, she spent many hours reviewing legal documents, police reports and court transcripts in conjunction with the case that was settled out of court in June. Hired as an expert by the law firm of Loevy & Loevy in Chicago, she had been preparing to testify against Woodridge police officers and the techniques they used in obtaining eyewitness evidence against Lyons for a 1987 rape that he served 3 ½ years in prison, and which DNA evidence later proved he did not commit.

“We knew there was a mistaken identification and I was asked to assess the different factors at hand, specifically regarding police officers’ actions in the case as they related to eyewitness memory,” Berkowitz said.

After DNA evidence proved his innocence, Lyons’ conviction was dismissed on the recommendation of the DuPage County State’s Attorney’s Office. He was later pardoned by then Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. As part of the out-of-court settlement announced on June 7, Woodridge police officers were dismissed from Lyons’ civil complaint for damages.

Berkowitz, whose research focuses on how people misremember details of events, and in some cases, develop false beliefs and memories, said issues in the case involved use of a potentially faulty composite sketch, a photo lineup and finally an in-person lineup which were used to identify Lyons.

“We know how memory works: If a witness first sees a photo or sketch and then later sees the same face in a lineup, regardless of whether that person is actually guilty, he or she is more likely to identify that person in a lineup,” said Berkowitz.

The Roosevelt professor currently is an expert in more than a dozen legal cases where memory of what happened may be an issue. She currently also is doing research on people’s attitudes toward memory-dampening drugs (citation: Newman, Berkowitz, Nelson, Garry, & Loftus (2011). With the help of her colleagues and her team of Roosevelt research assistants, she is now in the process of studying the legal implications of memory-dampening drugs.