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Matthew A. Radefeld and Daniel A. Juengel

Is eyewitness testimony reliable?

On Behalf of | Jan 2, 2024 | Criminal Law |

When one is charged with a crime, the police often rely on eyewitnesses as a source of evidence. Eyewitness testimony can be convincing, as it’s believed the human mind is highly capable of recording and storing every detail of an experience. But cases of eyewitness testimony leading to wrongful convictions have been reported.

So, how reliable is it?

An officer can influence a witness’s choice

In a sequential lineup, a witness is presented with photographs or people to choose the suspect they saw at the crime scene. While some lineups prove successful, others may be influenced by the police.

In most cases, the officer who organizes the lineup will typically be the one who identified or caught the prime suspect. Knowingly or unknowingly, they may hope the witness selects their choice. Accordingly, they may ask questions or drop clues that draw the witness’s attention to that suspect.

An officer may question a witness into having false memories that relate to other pieces of evidence they have.

Some professionals recommend neither the officer presiding over a lineup nor the witness knowing if a suspect is in a lineup to prevent this issue.

“Desire” to help solve a case

Many eyewitnesses, whether those helping the police gather evidence or those appearing in court during trials, have a desire to help solve a case. While this is positive, it can lead to false information, especially when they feel pressured by law enforcement.

A witness may give false statements to “fill in the blanks.” They can even provide information they are unsure about instead of admitting they don’t have answers to certain questions.

Eyewitness testimony can be considerably helpful. But a few factors can affect its reliability. If you are charged with a crime, seek legal help to avoid a wrongful conviction.