Frequently, eyewitness testimony is produced as key evidence in a criminal case. Witnesses are typically called forward to give their account of what they have seen as well as who they have seen.
However, research suggests that eyewitness testimony may not always be accurate. In fact, inaccuracy that has led to mistaken identifications is thought to have been a factor in hundreds of wrongful convictions.
As a result, eyewitness testimony warrants further consideration. Outlined below are four reasons why eyewitness testimony may not always be accurate.
The trauma of witnessing a crime
Witnessing a crime may be a stressful and completely new experience for an individual, especially when a serious offense has been committed. There may be so much going on in such a short time that a person feels completely overwhelmed. This can make it difficult to remember key factors, such as the identification of a suspect.
Important visual characteristics may be hidden
People are often recognized due to their distinguishing features, such as hair, eyes, tattoos and ethnicity. However, it is easy to hide these features, as is often done during the commission of a crime. Wearing sunglasses, hats, balaclavas and long-sleeved clothing are all methods that could potentially hide the distinctive features of a person, making it more problematic to identify them.
Memory is reconstructed rather than replayed
Studies indicate that memory is reconstructed rather than replayed. Consequently, when recalling the events of a crime, witnesses will try and piece aspects together like a puzzle. This goes against the common myth that memory can simply be replayed like a video. Crucially, this means that witnesses are susceptible to prompts or manipulation that could impact how they recall events. This creates the possibility for key moments to be inaccurately recalled or for suspects to be misidentified.
Recognizing the potential flaws with eyewitness testimony could protect your interests. If you have been accused of a crime, it is important to know that you have legal rights.