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The problem with eyewitness evidence

| Mar 1, 2021 | Criminal Law |

DNA testing has helped hundreds of people have their guilty convictions overturned. Around 70% of those people had wrongly been convicted due to eyewitness testimony. In some cases, multiple eyewitnesses had all placed them at the scene of the crime.

Why do eyewitnesses make mistakes?

If an eyewitness is willing to say they saw you, it is typically because they believe they did. It is their memory that is the problem, not their integrity. While someone could falsely blame you for personal reasons, most eyewitnesses simply get it wrong. Here are some of the reasons:

  • Our memories are not that accurate: Think back to the last exam you sat. How many questions did you get wrong because you could not accurately recall what you thought you knew? Can you remember what you had for dinner last Tuesday? What color was the car next to you at the lights a minute ago? We are not as observant as we like to think. If we were, magicians and illusionists would be out of a job.
  • Lineup problems: The way a lineup is carried out can make a big difference. If others in the room know you are the person accused, they can subconsciously or even intentionally influence the witness to choose you. The choice of people used in the lineup can also affect the outcome. If the witness said they saw a 6ft man with ginger hair, and you are the only redhead in the lineup and the only person over 5’ 7”, the odds are stacked against you.

It is crucial to seek legal help if faced with any criminal accusation. An attorney can look at the defense strategies available. One of those may be to challenge the reliability of an eyewitness account.