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The Inaccuracy of Eyewitness

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In order to be prosecuted for a crime, there must be a substantial amount of evidence to support the allegations against the defendant. There must be even more evidence for the defendant to be found guilty. There are many forms of evidence, including fingerprints and other forensic evidence, surveillance camera footage, cell phone records and other electronic footprints, and much more. One of the most common types of evidence used is that of an eyewitness. Sometimes, the only evidence used to make a conviction is that of a single eyewitness who was observing the event at a distance, at dusk, and was not sure whether the perpetrator was tall or short, stocky or thin, or had black hair or brown hair. Eyewitnesses are surprisingly inaccurate, and unfortunately many jurors can be convinced otherwise.

How Confident is the Eyewitness?

According to Scientific American, jurors are more likely to believe an eyewitness who claims that they are very sure about what they saw, versus an eyewitness who is not as confident. This makes sense and sounds like a good thing at first, but not when studies have shown that highly confident eyewitness are only slightly more accurate than unconfident eyewitnesses. The accuracy of eyewitnesses stems from the fact that the human mind is not like a video surveillance camera. According to University of California, Irvine memory researcher and psychologist Elizabeth F. Loftus, the mind is “more akin to putting puzzle pieces together than retrieving a video recording.”  As such, eyewitnesses reconstruct events, they do not remember them as they were. Questioning by a lawyer, reading media reports, seeing police photographs, and simply having time to reflect on what they saw can all significantly alter what they believe they saw. Moreover, during an extreme shock or negative emotion, a strong memory is imprinted in the brain that makes people (including witnesses) overconfident about all of the small details surrounding the incident, according to a 2011 study reported in The New Yorker. According to the lead researcher, “You just feel you know it better. And even when we tell them they’re mistaken people still don’t buy it.”

Factors that Cause Inaccurate Eyewitness Testimony

If someone puts a gun in another’s face, what do you think the victim is looking at and focusing on: the characteristics of the gun-holder, or the gun itself? A variety of factors can contribute to highly inaccurate eyewitness testimony, including the following:

  • High stress during the crime;
  • Presence of a weapon during the crime;
  • Extreme pressure during the identification process;
  • Racial difference between the witness and suspect;
  • Disguise of the suspect;
  • Short viewing time during a lineup; and
  • The suspect’s lack of distinctive characteristics.

Call a Criminal Defense Attorney Today

No matter what type of offense you have been charged with, you need an experienced lawyer at your side that can ensure that inaccurate or false witness testimony is not used to sway the jury against you. For immediate legal help, call the West Palm Beach law offices of the Skier Law Firm today.

Resources:

scientificamerican.com/article/do-the-eyes-have-it/

newyorker.com/science/maria-konnikova/idea-happened-memory-recollection

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