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Unreliability of eyewitnesses

On Behalf of | Mar 12, 2023 | Criminal Defense |

Witness testimony often carries a lot of weight, especially with a jury. If the members of a jury hear a perspective from an eyewitness, they will often assume that this person is telling the truth. This is especially true in cases where the eyewitness is not actually connected to the case, but just happened to be a bystander. This means that they would have no inherent reason to lie, so the jury will likely believe them.

However, even if an eyewitness is not lying intentionally, it has been found that the testimony that is provided by such individuals is incredibly unreliable. In 69% of cases that have been exonerated due to DNA evidence, it has been found that the original conviction resulted from eyewitness testimony. The witness was wrong, accidentally or purposely. Why does this happen so often?

Memories can change

One thing to keep in mind is that memories can actually be changed. People often don’t realize this, so they trust the things that they remember. But every time someone recalls a memory, it can be altered by new information.

Oftentimes, an eyewitness will talk about their experience to many different people. They have to tell the story in court, they may talk to family members and they’ll tell the story to the authorities. Every time they do so, there is a chance that it could warp or change. The eyewitness will likely have no idea that this is happening.

People get details wrong

An even simpler explanation is just that people make mistakes. An eyewitness isn’t expecting to witness a crime. They’re not planning for it. They may not be in a good position to view it effectively, there could be visibility issues and everything will have happened very quickly. But even if the witness accidentally gets important details wrong, the jury may still assume that their recollections are correct.

Overall, this just shows how problematic the legal justice system is and how often mistakes are made. Those who are involved in a criminal case need to be sure that they understand all of their legal defense options as securing a favorable outcome can be difficult even for the truly innocent.