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How can eyewitness testimony be unreliable?

On Behalf of | Apr 10, 2024 | Criminal Defense |

Eyewitness testimony is not always as reliable as people think. When it comes to defending against criminal charges, relying only on what witnesses say may be problematic for several reasons.

Learning about the weaknesses of eyewitnesses can help a person determine what to do next.

Memory distortion

Emotions can mess with how people remember events. Witnesses often feel high levels of stress, affecting their ability to accurately recall what went on. Sometimes, people mix up details or even add events they did not actually see.

This often leads individuals to prioritize emotionally charged aspects of an event while neglecting other equally important facts. Strong emotions such as fear or anger can lead to inaccurate testimony.

Memory contamination

Exposure to external information after an event can contaminate witnesses’ memories. Media coverage and talks with law enforcement and other witnesses can all influence a person’s memory. This may lead to people accidentally remembering details that were not part of their real experience and changing their view of the original incident.

Suggestive questioning

The questions people ask witnesses can actually make them remember events differently. The questions may suggest certain answers over others. Then, witnesses might change their story without realizing it. When police do lineups, this influence can make witnesses pick someone not at the scene.

Eyewitness testimony can have a powerful sway on people’s opinions, especially as the incident first unfolds. This is why it is important for the legal system to look at all the evidence carefully and not just believe what witnesses say.