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Are eyewitnesses very dependable?

On Behalf of | Apr 14, 2024 | Criminal Defense

Many people believe that eyewitnesses are the gold standard in testimony during a criminal case. This is largely because of television shows and movies, which often rely on a “star witness” being produced at the end of a court case. This person gives their testimony and it changes the entire outcome of the case.

In the real world, though, witness testimony is much less reliable than people would assume. It still may get strong consideration from a judge or a jury, but this doesn’t mean that it is right. Eyewitnesses are often wrong and inaccurate eyewitness statements have been identified as one of the leading causes of false convictions.

Are eyewitnesses malicious?

There may be some cases where eyewitnesses are acting maliciously or giving an account that they know isn’t true. Maybe the witness is biased against people of a certain ethnicity or religious background, for instance, so they intentionally try to blame someone who had nothing to do with the crime.

But in most cases, it is just that a person‘s memory is malleable and can change with time. But people don’t realize that. They think of their memory more like a photograph or a video. So the things that they “remember” can change as they encounter new information, talk to other witnesses and even just tell their story repeatedly during the court case. The witness doesn’t realize that the memory has changed and so they accidentally give an inaccurate account of what took place.

Either way, this is a very big problem for those who are facing criminal accusations, and it’s one reason why they need to fully understand their defense options.