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Do eyewitnesses always get it right?

On Behalf of | Apr 4, 2022 | Criminal law

If you’re facing criminal charges, then the prosecution will present evidence that they argue indicates your guilt. Physical evidence such as DNA can be compelling, but it is not always possible to obtain this from the scene.

One common form of evidence brought forward for the courts to assess is eyewitness testimony. Essentially, this amounts to a person claiming that they have seen you acting in a way that could implicate you in the criminal activity in question.

How reliable is eyewitness testimony? Do they always get it right?

The environmental factors at play

There is no escaping the fact that humans are susceptible to cognitive bias. If a witness has been forced to view a criminal act, then they will want someone to be punished for it. However, this can result in the wrong person being punished.

Few criminal acts happen over an extended period of time. A robbery, car theft or violent assault is likely to be over in a matter of seconds. It’s a stressful scenario. Additionally, perpetrators often make attempts to conceal their identity through face masks or other disguises and act under the cover of darkness. All of these factors could cast doubt on the reliability of witness statements.

The memory is fallible

Very few people have a photographic memory and it is far more difficult to accurately recall past events than is commonly perceived. Criminal cases generally do not reach the courts until months, even years after the alleged crime took place. During this time, the memory of events may have become at least hazy. When taking to the stand, witnesses will attempt to fill in any gaps. While this may not be malicious, the changeable nature of memory can result in significant errors.

It is up to the prosecution to establish your guilt beyond reasonable doubt, and you have a right to challenge all evidence, including eyewitness testimony. To ensure the best possible outcome in your case, make sure you are familiar with your legal options.