Why witness testimony isn’t trustworthy

On Behalf of | Nov 28, 2017 | Blog |

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.