Why witness testimony isn't trustworthy

Facing accusations of having committed a violent crime places your future in the balance. Arkansas prosecutors and detectives have told you the evidence is stacking up against you, and they have eyewitnesses who will testifying to seeing you at the scene of the crime. They may tell you that the confidence of the eyewitness means that your best bet is to accept a plea and the sentence that goes with it.

However, before you surrender and prepare for years behind bars, you may want to learn more about how unreliable witness testimony can be. In fact, recent studies show that eyewitnesses are often wrong.

Elements that may affect what people witness

The human brain is a miraculous thing. The capacity for the brain to think, reason and draw conclusions puts humans far above other animals. However, it may be just this capacity that makes witnesses so unreliable. When people see an alleged crime occur, there may be many factors that prevent an accurate understanding of what they witness, for example:

  • The lighting may be poor.
  • They may be far away from the scene of the incident.
  • The people involved may be moving quickly.
  • The witnesses may not fully understand what they are seeing.
  • They may be unable to get a clear image of the perpetrator because they are distracted by some other activity.

While the witnesses may see only pieces of an event or of someone's face, their brains may complete the memory for them in the most satisfying way. In other words, the witness who claims to have seen you commit a crime may have drawn that conclusion based on other factors besides his or her memory of the event.

The unreliability of memory

Scientific research into the way the brain works reveals that memories of an event, especially one that is confusing, unfamiliar or unclear, are susceptible to suggestion. The witness who is willing to testify against you likely picked you from a lineup or from photographs, but the witness's own uncertainty may have opened him or her to the subtle suggestions police or investigators made about your culpability.

Further studies show that each time a witness recalls a memory, the brain may revise the facts of the memory. There is no telling how many times investigators asked the witness to recount the events of the crime of which you are accused. An important part of your defense will certainly be determining how much of the witness statement is memory and how much is revision suggested by the questions of investigators.

No Comments

Leave a comment
Comment Information
  • American Board of Criminal Lawyers Only Arkansan

    Since 1983

  • AV AV Preeminent tm Martindale Hubbell Lawyer Ratings

    For Over 25 years

  • The Best Lawyers In America

    Since 2005

  • National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers Past President 08-09 NACDL 1958

    ABA Journal Top
    100 Lawyer Blog

  • Rated By Super Lawyers TOP 50 Arkansas SuperLawers.com

    Since 2006

  • Norml Legal Committee Life Time Member

    Since 1987

Contact Our Office Now

Contact John Wesley Hall Today

You deserve to have a fighting chance in your legal matter. Contact John Wesley Hall in Little Rock at 501-371-9131. Phones are answered 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Bold labels are required.

Contact Information

The use of the Internet or this form for communication with the firm or any individual member of the firm does not establish an attorney-client relationship. Confidential or time-sensitive information should not be sent through this form.


Privacy Policy

1202 Main Street | Suite 210 | Little Rock, AR 72202 | Phone: 501-371-9131 | Fax: 501-378-0888 | Little Rock Law Office Map