Eyewitnesses Are Unreliable And Frequently Wrong

Mar 18 2020

If a case ever hinges mainly on the testimony of an eyewitness, you need to carefully consider just how robust that testimony may be. The eyewitness may seem confident. They may influence a jury. That does not mean they are telling the truth, and the issues with their testimony could be unintentional.

This has all come to light in the last few decades, since the rise of DNA evidence. Since DNA is largely irrefutable, it can clear people who have been convicted. It can show that they faced a wrongful conviction and should never have spent time behind bars. Hundreds of people have been cleared this way.

Clearing them also sheds light on why they were wrongfully convicted in the first place. When authorities looked into it, they found that the main reason was inaccurate eyewitness identification. The eyewitness picked the wrong person. The jury convicted based on that account. It was all a misunderstanding, but it may have cost someone years of their life before DNA came along and cleared them.

Why are eyewitnesses unreliable? There are clear issues with human memory. Try to think about what you had for lunch last week, and you can tell how fast things fade. Now imagine a person in a high-stress experience that they were not prepared for and never expected and ask them to relate the fine details of what took place. Throw in the fact that they were facing stress and perhaps felt afraid, and it’s clear why they get it wrong so often — even when they think they’re remembering it correctly.

It’s important to understand the role that eyewitnesses play in court, the mistakes they make and the legal defense options that you have when facing charges.

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