An eyewitness takes the stand in a criminal case, makes a passionate testimony and sounds like they’re telling the truth. Figuring that person has no reason to lie, the jury convicts the accused, who claims the entire time that they are innocent.
This is a common occurrence and may even seem fair; clearly, the person who has been accused has more of a reason to lie. However, it’s important not to assume that means that they did lie. The truth is that eyewitnesses are often wrong, whether they know it or no.
In fact, eyewitness accounts are “shockingly inaccurate”, according to Scientific American, which also says that the confidence of the witness tends to make no difference. They could be very sure they have the right person or express some doubt. Either way, they have about the same chances of being wrong.
Why are eyewitnesses so unreliable? There are many factors to consider. Some people are biased and may come to the wrong conclusion through those biases. In weapons cases, some eyewitnesses pay more attention to the weapon and don’t really remember the person holding it. In most incidents, witnesses had no idea that they were about to see a crime unfold, so they were unprepared to catch the small details as they watched it play out very quickly before them.
Fortunately, DNA evidence has shed some light on this lack of accuracy, which makes people more aware of it than in the past. Unfortunately, it still happens. If you’re facing accusations for any reason, you need to know what legal defense options you have.