How Reliable is Eyewitness Testimony?

February 2, 2021
eye witness

Eyewitness testimony seems compelling and convincing. The human mind is partial to good storytelling, and a witness who takes the stand and tells a judge or jury what they believe they witnessed may garner great sympathy from them. But when it comes to accuracy, eyewitness testimony is not the gold standard that many people think it is. When various eyewitness reports of the same event are put together, they can vary substantially. The same eyewitness can even change their story when asked the same questions by a different person. 

If you have been arrested and charged with a crime, the police and prosecutors may try to convict you based on eyewitness testimony. You should not allow this to happen. Hiring a Virginia criminal defense attorney is your best line of defense. 

Eyewitness Testimony is Unreliable 

Your criminal defense attorney Fairfax VA knows that eyewitness testimony is unreliable, especially in a trial. Prosecutors like to put people who believe they witnessed a crime on the stand because they know that judges and juries like to hear such personal narratives. But even if it is assumed that the person did see something, the content of what they have to say could be tainted by the coaching of the prosecution and the official actions of the judge. Likewise, the jury may not get a completely pure version of what the witness believes they saw. 

It is a crime to commit perjury, and most eyewitnesses do not give knowingly false statements. However, the effects of time and possible interference make it difficult for them to deliver purely factual statements. Unfortunately, misremembered and biased testimony is not considered a crime. 

How Memory Doesn’t Work 

Scientists are still trying to understand how memory works. However, they know for sure how it doesn’t work. Memory is not like a video recorder. Our minds do not perfectly record events and play them back when asked. Imagination, desires, emotions, and a range of other sensations, thoughts, and feelings go into the reconstruction of past events. Human memory is deeply affected by prejudice, fear, anger, and inclinations. Even the most thoughtful, well-meaning, and tolerant person cannot avoid the instincts and impulses of the unconscious, and these will affect the way they remember things. 

Identification is significantly impacted by the length of time a witness was in contact with a suspect. The delay between the incident and the request to identify the suspect can also impair identification. Stress and fear also affect memory. If you were frightened for your life during the commission of a crime, you are unlikely to remember the details of someone’s appearance. Indeed, you are more likely to substitute a long-held image of the kind of person you fear for the person you actually saw. 

Memory is quite malleable. It is not uncommon for false memories to develop in witnesses minds after being questioned and hearing suggestive language. Witnesses can also be affected by the information they receive later. That is why interviews of witnesses should be reviewed by your criminal defense lawyer Fairfax VA. 

Your Lawyer’s Fight 

A Virginia criminal defense attorney will be well aware of the unreliability of eyewitness testimony. They know how people and their memories can be susceptible to suggestion. Your criminal lawyer Fairfax VA can try to undermine and discredit the testimony of the witnesses brought against you. Although juries like to hear from people who were at the scene, they will begin to doubt the person if the holes and inconsistencies in their story are exposed. 

If you have been arrested and charged with a crime, you should call a Fairfax criminal attorney at Rudolphi Law.