During a criminal case, an eyewitness may be called to testify against the defendant or defendants in a case. The eyewitness may recall events that led up to the criminal act or identify people who committed a crime — and eyewitness testimony is considered pretty powerful.
However, eyewitness testimony may not be as accurate as many people believe. In a movie or TV show, the audience can easily rewind the video and clearly see how a criminal acted. However, in reality, it’s a lot more complicated. Here’s how:
People have bad memories
It’s often thought that memory works like a video camera – every detail is recorded exactly as it happened. The truth about the brain is that it’s very bad at remembering events. The memory works more like a series of pictures and a story is made to fill in the details in between. In other words, an eyewitness may not know the exact details of an event.
Furthermore, eyewitness testimony may have made up facts. This can happen when someone is scared or alarmed. This could also happen when people are too far away and create images in their memories to fill in what they think happened.
Memories can be influenced
Not only is the memory bad at remembering events but it can be influenced by others and personal biases. For example, someone may be encouraged to remember facts according to how the police want an event to have happened. Likewise, a person who holds personal biases, such as against someone’s color or race, may believe a certain demographic committed a crime even when it wasn’t.
Time is a key factor
Memory is also fleeting. Memories often over time. Eyewitness testimony may include or retract information depending on how the story was told later.
In summary, during a criminal case, the testimony of an eyewitness could incriminate someone that didn’t commit a crime. Because of this, people often need to be aware of their right to seek legal defense.