People facing criminal charges often have at least one person serving as the eyewitness who identified them as being involved in a crime. This can certainly be upsetting if you are in this position, but understand that just because some identifies you as a guilty party does not mean you are guilty.
Eyewitness testimony is far from perfect. In fact, as noted in this Scientific American article, there are many problems with eyewitness testimony that make it unreliable in a court setting. We examine three such problems with eyewitness testimony below.
- A person's account of an incident is highly susceptible to errors. People can falsely remember details when they are scared, far away or tricked by a disguise. When the viewing time is brief, a person can easily fail to notice certain traits of the person they are looking at. Further, stereotypes and biases can lead people to see characteristics or behaviors that were not actually there.
- Police can mislead eyewitnesses during identification procedures. Everything from subtle suggestions and enthusiastic agreements to how police present a lineup to a witness can mislead the person. These tactics work to encourage a person to point out a specific person, which can perpetuate wrongful identifications.
- Over time, memories and perceptions can change. Everything from conversations with police to learning more about a particular suspect can skew a person's memory. Additionally, the sharpness of a person's memory can fade, making it difficult to correctly identify someone. The line between a real memory and a suggestion can become blurry, making these accounts dubious.
Considering all the ways in which an eyewitness testimony can be unreliable, it is vital that you and your attorney challenge them in court. Between the weakening of these accounts and the presentation of evidence that supports your innocence, you may be able to avoid conviction and/or minimize the penalties you may be facing.