Reasons why eyewitnesses give false testimony

On Behalf of | Jul 25, 2021 | Criminal Defense

We’ve all seen news reports of people who were convicted after an eyewitness took the stand and gave very convincing testimony, only to later discover that that witness was completely mistaken. 

What happened? 

The cold hard fact is that eyewitnesses are notoriously (and often) wrong. As those dedicated to criminal defense report, it is possible to be sincere and be sincerely mistaken.

Why are witnesses unreliable?

According to Scientific American, here are some common reasons why witnesses get it wrong:

  • Stressors: Witnessing a crime can be a stressful and emotional experience that often blurs perception.
  • Weapons: Stress is dramatically increased when a weapon is involved in a criminal act. The eyewitness is often focusing more on the weapon than the face of the person holding it.
  • Disguises: Many crimes are committed with the use of a disguise, mask or other strategies designed to hide the true identity of the perpetrator.
  • Racial biases: Judgement is affected when an eyewitness has a racial bias against a perpetrator that is of another race, color or nationality. Some people also have a harder time distinguishing people of a different race than their own apart from others.
  • Brevity: Many crimes happen in the blink of an eye. Being unable to capture crucial details in such a fleeting moment often leads to false recollections.
  • Lack of distinctions: When a suspect doesn’t have visible tattoos or other notable characteristics, the sheer normality of their appearance can make it difficult to identify them in a lineup. 

Unfortunately, humans are limited by their five senses. When we add to this a layer of bias or prejudice, the result is often inaccurate testimony. 

When developing a solid defense, it is important to know that eyewitness accounts can play a crucial and pivotal role in the outcome of a case. For this reason, it can be beneficial to have legal counsel that is experienced in eyewitness analysis for criminal defense.