As a Missouri resident facing a criminal charge, it may unnerve you to hear that there were witnesses present when the incident occurred who plan to speak out about what they believe they saw. It may unnerve you even further, however, to know just how often eyewitness accounts wind up being inaccurate.
According to the Association for Psychological Science, eyewitness accounts have historically played a massive role in the convictions of many people, with some believing that only signed confessions contain more damning evidence of a crime. The problem, however, is that, while eyewitness statements may frequently help convince others of a suspected offender’s guilt, they are not as accurate as many people assume.
To put this in perspective, a total of 358 people received convictions, and subsequent death sentences, for crimes that took place in the years since 1989, only to have DNA evidence exonerate them later on. More than 70% of those cases involved eyewitness misidentification, demonstrating just unreliable this type of “evidence” can be. The stakes are extremely high for those convicted of crimes due to eyewitness misidentification, though, with the more than 70% mentioned above who went to prison because of it spending an average of 14 years apiece behind bars.
Over time, an eyewitness’s memories can become subject to distortion or bias, and this is one of a number of different reasons why eyewitness reports are often unreliable. It is particularly unfortunate, then, that today’s criminal justice system continues to place such a high value on them.
This information about the accuracy of eyewitness testimony is educational in nature and not a substitute for legal advice.