Being accused of a crime can make you feel like you’re on a conveyor built being pushed through the criminal justice system without really knowing what’s going on or what you can do to help yourself. These feelings can intensify when you find out there is a witness who has made a statement or an identification. However, it’s important to remember that eyewitness testimony doesn’t mean there’s no hope.
Unreliability of eyewitness testimony
Some studies have shown that eyewitness testimony is actually not nearly as reliable as many people think and is easily influenced. According to statistics released by the Innocence Project, 73 percent of convictions overturned after DNA testing were based on testimony from eyewitnesses, and a full one-third of those involved two or more eyewitnesses. How does this happen?
- Stress makes identifications more difficult. When the human body is under stress, the fight or flight instinct kicks in, and this can significantly diminish a person’s ability to accurately recall details about the situation later. For example, if a weapon is involved, the victim is much more likely to focus on the object instead of the suspect. Even a witness not directly involved in the incident may be tainted if violence or other very stressful circumstances were involved.
- The farther away the witness, the less accurate the testimony. If the witness viewed the incident from a distance, it’s much harder to make a positive identification or even accurately see specific details, such as whether the suspect had a weapon. This applies to time as well. The longer the time period between the incident and giving a statement to police or appearing in court, the harder it is to recall important details.
- There are issues with the identification itself. Racial disparities between the suspect and the witness have been shown to decrease the reliability of identifications. A police lineup where the witness knows that the suspect is present can also contribute to less than accurate results because the witnesses may choose the person who most closely resembles the person they think they saw instead of using a “none of the above” option.
All of these factors cause serious accuracy and credibility issues with eyewitness identifications and testimony. However, juries do give quite a bit of weight to eyewitness statements. This is why it’s even more important to have knowledgeable legal representation when facing criminal charges involving a witness. Contact the law offices of James M. Porfido, Attorney at Law, to learn more.