Mistaken Eyewitness Testimony

People Often Don't See What They Thought They Saw

Elizabeth Loftus Ph.D, famed psychologist and expert on human memory warned, The problem is clear: the unreliability of eyewitness identification evidence poses one of the most serious problems in the administration of criminal justice and civil litigation. She’s right, did you know that problems with eyewitness testimony have been associated with over 75% of DNA exoneration cases? In other words, three out of four people falsely imprisoned but subsequently cleared by DNA evidence, were convicted in part because of faulty eyewitness testimony.

This is absolutely astonishing because many people think if a person testifies under oath regarding what they observed or heard while a crime was being committed should be reliable. However, several studies have determined that eyewitness testimony can become problematic and lead to an unfair verdict.

The following are some reasons eyewitness testimony can become problematic:

1.     Law enforcement uses a simultaneous line up of people vs. sequential photos.

2.     Detectives give subtle hints during the identification of potential perpetrators.

3.     People feel the stress and pressure to help solve the crime

4.     Memory biases, and errors.

5.     The suspect is of a different ethnicity than the eyewitness.

Given the new data researchers have collected surrounding the unreliability of eyewitness testimony, it is vitally crucial for police, prosecutors, and especially defense attorneys to be skeptical and thoroughly examine eyewitness testimony. They should overlook no issues that may be present that could lead to a wrongful conviction.