What are the main problems with eyewitness testimonies?
Eyewitness testimonies can be incredibly unreliable in Florida. This is especially true in criminal cases where the defendant’s freedom may hinge on the testimony of a single person or a few people. The question is: Why are eyewitness testimonies so unreliable?
Witness testimonies hinge on memory
One reason is that human memory is notoriously fallible. People often remember things that didn’t happen, or they misremember details of what did happen. This is especially true when under stress, which can distort memories.
Another reason is that police procedures for collecting eyewitness testimony are often flawed. For example, police use leading questions when interviewing witnesses, which can bias their memories. Witnesses may be shown a photo lineup that does or does not include the actual suspect, which can lead them to identify the wrong person.
On top of that, people’s memories can get influenced by what they see and hear after the event. This is called “post-event information.” For example, if someone hears that the suspect was wearing a blue shirt, they may be more likely to remember seeing the suspect in a blue shirt, even if they didn’t actually see that.
The dangers of eyewitness testimony
This all has serious implications. Eyewitnesses are responsible for a large number of the wrongful convictions that have been overturned by DNA evidence in the United States. Even when DNA isn’t available, an unreliable eyewitness testimony can lead to a conviction.
Innocent people have gone to prison based on eyewitness testimony. This is a huge problem, and it’s one that the criminal justice system has yet to fully address. Criminal defense attorneys sometimes have to work hard to overcome the power of an eyewitness testimony even when it’s not supported by any other evidence.
To overcome this issue, it’s important for police departments to change their procedures for collecting eyewitness testimony. The criminal justice system also needs to do a better job of informing juries about the fallibility of eyewitness testimony so that innocent people don’t continue to get convicted based on unreliable evidence.