Eyewitness testimony can be invaluable in any legal case. Criminal defense lawyers seek out eyewitnesses when their accounts of a crime or other event could help shed important light on what really happened. Of course, eyewitnesses are human and can be mistaken as to what they saw. When an eyewitness makes an error in their recollection of an event, the results could hurt a defendant’s case rather than help it. Considering this, criminal defense attorneys must carefully decide whether to seek eyewitness testimony and risk any repercussions if an error in recollection of the event is made.
Recollection Errors by Eyewitnesses
Although it may seem easy for an eyewitness to recall their memory of an event, research has proven otherwise. According to studies done on eyewitness recollection, the leading reason for wrongful conviction is eyewitness error. This demonstrates that people do not always remember things exactly as they happened. One of the main areas where eyewitnesses make errors is recognizing faces and identifying individuals. In over half of the cases involving a wrongful conviction, incorrect identification was the main error. Due to this startling evidence, criminal defense lawyers must carefully weigh whether eyewitness testimony should be sought and what the repercussions could be if that testimony is flawed.
Eyewitness Testimony Can Be Flawed
Visual impairment and how the human mind works are the main reasons why eyewitness accounts are not accurate. Viewing a scene from a bad angle or from a distance can affect a witnesses actual perception of what happened. It is common, and must always be questioned whenever an eyewitness account is given. The bigger problem is caused by the moldability of the human mind. Scientific evidence shows that memory can fluctuate based on external influences such as feedback from other people, personal opinion including racial disparities, and how eyewitnesses are questioned.
Dealing With Eyewitness Errors
Criminal defense attorneys recognize that eyewitness errors can play a significant role in a wrongful conviction. As a result, all eyewitness testimony must be carefully questioned and challenged if there is any reason to believe it is erroneous. There is currently pressure on law enforcement to adopt standardized protocols for interviewing eyewitnesses to reduce these errors and the resulting wrongful criminal charges. It is vital to ensure the accuracy of any eyewitness testimony, especially concerning identification.
It is the opinion of criminal defense lawyers that eyewitnesses can be helpful if they present an accurate account of an event that is unswayed by personal opinion or outside influences. Research has unfortunately shown that eyewitness accounts tend to be incorrect a large percentage of the time. The best advice that criminal defense attorneys can give to anyone who has been charged or convicted based on eyewitness testimony is to challenge that testimony to reduce the chance of wrongful conviction due to eyewitness error. Anyone facing such circumstances should consult with experienced criminal defense lawyers who can help with eyewitness testimony.
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