Don’t assume that eyewitnesses are right. Don’t assume that their accounts are accurate. Many people do, but the science behind the process tells us an entirely different story. A concerning amount of the time, eyewitnesses — even those who seem very confident in their own accounts — are simply wrong.
Looking at wrongful convictions
Perhaps the best way to study eyewitness accuracy is by looking at wrongful convictions. If you compare the number of inaccurate convictions — which are later overturned by DNA evidence or something else that is similarly indisputable — to the number of convictions centered around eyewitness testimony, you can get a sense of the role that it plays.
This was done in one study at Ohio State University. What they found while looking at hundreds of cases was that 52% of these wrongful convictions involved mistakes made by the eyewitnesses. So, while wrongful convictions certainly can happen for other reasons, the majority of the time, it is just a witness telling the court something that is inaccurate and the court and/or the jury deciding that the person is guilty based on that testimony.
With that in mind, is it really best to base criminal trials on eyewitness accounts? Or does that give people who clearly make a lot of mistakes far too much power over other people’s lives and futures?
Understanding the entire legal process
If you are facing criminal charges, you need to be aware of this phenomenon and how it may impact your own case. On top of that, you need to understand your rights and the entire legal process so that you can work with your attorney to make the best decisions for your situation.