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Why eyewitness testimony isn’t reliable

On Behalf of | Jun 6, 2022 | Criminal Defense

Courtroom TV dramas often put a lot of emphasis on eyewitness testimony. One minute, the prosecution is losing the case. The next minute, everything turns around thanks to an important eyewitness. While the thought of an eyewitness saving the day is exciting on a tv show, it is not truly feasible in a real court of law.

According to The Innocence Project, eyewitness testimony is the leading cause of wrongful imprisonments. Nearly 70% of exonerations of formerly convicted criminals are due to unreliable eyewitness testimony. 

Today’s DNA tests are much more accurate than they used to be when they first emerged on the scene in the 1980s. When forensics from the crime scene are re-examined using today’s DNA tests, past errors come to light that prove the original results were wrong.

Why is eyewitness testimony so unreliable?

There are several reasons why eyewitness testimony is unreliable at best:

  • Human memories tend to adapt to their surroundings. The original memory can easily become distorted as the witness hears more information about the circumstances of the crime. In other words, a person may inadvertently add to the memory without realizing what they’re doing.
  • The environment can make it difficult for an eyewitness to see or comprehend what they are seeing. For example, if a witness sees a woman being mugged from a distance at night, they may be able to make out the form of the mugger, but not the mugger’s features. This makes the description of the mugger given by the eyewitness questionable at best.
  • Faulty lineup conditions may skew the witness’s identification. Police can easily mislead an eyewitness by unintentionally giving clues as to who the witness should choose as the perpetrator.

If you or a family member are facing a serious criminal charge on the basis of faulty eyewitness testimony, experienced legal guidance is essential to obtain a positive outcome for your case.