Don’t assume that the eyewitness is always reliable, a key way to break a case open. The truth is that eyewitnesses are often incorrect and pick out the wrong perpetrators when asked. They also make testimony mistakes, relate accounts of things that did not happen and confidently make all sorts of other claims that are inaccurate. 

Want proof? Experts call these testimonies “shockingly inaccurate”. We’re learned this over the past few decades as DNA evidence has been called in to re-examine cases where eyewitness testimony helped put people behind bars. DNA can clear people of their charges, even long after the fact, and most of the cases where people do get cleared involve mistakes by eyewitnesses that put them in jail in the first place. 

The specific reasons why witnesses get it wrong vary. In some cases, they just can’t remember the event as well as they think they can. In others, they mix up the information that they learned later with things that they actually remember — reading other accounts of the event, for instance, and then believing that they remember it happening that way. Still other times, bias comes into play, and people may think they remember things that never happened based on what they believe would have happened. 

Though the reasons vary, the end result is the same. An eyewitness who thinks they are telling the truth and sounds confident about it can still be wrong, and that leads to a serious miscarriage of justice. Those facing charges deserve much better. If they find themselves in legal trouble based on an inaccurate testimony, they need to know exactly what rights they have and what steps they can take.  

 

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