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Eyewitness testimony isn’t always reliable

On Behalf of | Jun 12, 2024 | Criminal Defense

You’ve heard the saying, “There are two sides to every story.” In reality, there are multiple sides to every story.

And, if you have been charged with a crime, it’s important to ensure the right story is told.

Our memories aren’t exact playbacks

Most people believe that their memories are true and accurate recollections of their past experiences, and relieving those memories is like watching an old video of a favorite movie. 

However, that is not the case. Instead, when we recall an event, our brains rebuild the memory from different pieces of information, and this process is influenced by current thoughts, emotions and context, which can alter the details of the memory.

Understanding this is crucial regarding eyewitness testimony. It has long been viewed as a powerful and persuasive form of evidence. An eyewitness’ detailed accounts can sway juries and play a vital role in a trial’s outcome.

Still, on average, it takes 270 days from arrest to disposition in a criminal case. During that time, the accuracy of eyewitness testimony tends to decrease as memories naturally decay. As more time passes between the event and the recall, details can become fuzzy, and the likelihood of errors increases. 

In addition to memory decay, several other factors influence the accuracy of eyewitness testimony, such as:

  • The impact of stress and anxiety that result from witnessing a crime
  • Influence of suggestion and misinformation from leading questions and media coverage
  • Misidentification due to the “cross-race effect,” where people are less accurate at identifying individuals of races different from their own
  • Personal prejudices and stereotypes

In addition, different eyewitnesses may have had different views of the crime and, thus, different stories. Therefore, it is essential to work with someone who can sort through the stories, see the complete picture and build a strong defense based on factual evidence. 


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