Eyewitnesses are wrong an uncomfortable amount of the time

On Behalf of | Aug 15, 2019 | Criminal Defense |

After criminal accusations, a lot of different elements may impact the case. They could include the testimony of the accused, the statements from police officers, the forensic evidence from the scene and much more. All of these work together to help the judge and jury determine the outcome of the case.

One key point, in many cases, is the eyewitness testimony. When a witness comes to court and tells the jury what they saw, it holds a lot of weight. After all, that witness may have nothing to do with the case otherwise. They have nothing to gain by lying. The jury often assumes that they’re telling the truth.

The reality

However, studies have found that a lot of eyewitness testimonies are wrong. They’re factually inaccurate. We have seen an increase in awareness of this fact since DNA evidence came into the picture. Much of the time, when DNA evidence overturns a conviction, they see that an eyewitness played a key role. They testified against someone, saying they were guilty, when scientific evidence later proved they were innocent.

But how does an eyewitness make a mistake like that? Sure, you may have some cases where a person intentionally lies, but you also have cases where the witness may honestly believe what they tell the jury. They’re just wrong. How is it possible?

Changing memories

One reason is that memories change and get reconstructed over time. People’s own personal biases can alter the memories, as can stories that they read, other accounts that they hear and even their own recollections of the event. These small alterations “become” the new memory. By the time the witness gets to court, they have a false memory, but even they do not know it.

For instance, maybe a witness saw someone commit the crime, but they couldn’t tell what the person looked like because they were wearing a hoodie and they were across the street. Then another story comes out where a person claims the perpetrator had red hair. The witness sees pictures of the person who got arrested. All of these things mold the memory so that they “remember” seeing the person’s red hair during the crime.

They don’t do this on purpose. It happens without their knowledge. But that does not change how much of a drastic impact these false memories and testimonies can have on any type of criminal case that winds up before a judge and jury.

Defense options

This is just one reason why it is so important to know your legal defense options if you ever get accused of a crime. You must know what rights you have in Pennsylvania and what steps you can take, especially if you think inaccurate information is going to impact the case.