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How reliable are eyewitness testimonies?

Sep 15, 2022 | Criminal law

Hollywood would have us believe that eyewitness testimonies are the key factor in determining someone’s guilt. We are all familiar with the pivotal moment in movies and television shows when the witness points directly at the guilty party from the stand.

However, in real life, eyewitness testimony can be incredibly unreliable.

What are the problems with eyewitness accounts?

Eyewitness testimony is a compelling form of evidence, but it can also be notoriously unreliable. Studies have shown that people’s memories are often inaccurate and can be easily influenced by outside factors or their own biases or preconceptions. 

Eyewitnesses can be mistaken about what they saw, or they may simply fill in gaps in their memory with false information. In addition, some people may be more suggestible than others and can be influenced by leading questions from law enforcement or attorneys. Lastly, witnessing a crime can cause stress, making it difficult for the person to recall details accurately.

As a result, a good defense doesn’t attack the eyewitness. Instead, it points out the fallibility of human memory and that their memories can be easily contaminated by exposure to other information. Another way to defend against eyewitness testimony is to suggest that the witness may have misidentified the defendant. This can happen if the witness does not get a good look at the perpetrator, if the perpetrator was wearing a disguise, or if there are similarities between the defendant and perpetrator. 

If you’re facing criminal charges and there is eyewitness testimony against you, it’s essential to work with someone who understands the science of memory and cognition and can use that knowledge to your advantage.