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Can I Get an Eyewitness? The Trouble with Testimonials

What do eyewitness accounts have in common with Pamplona during the festival of San Fermín? They’re both full of bull! It’s pretty well-established that asking a person to pick out guilty parties from a police lineup or photos just does not work, but it remains part of routine procedurals all the same.

How Unreliable are They?

DNA evidence can override about 75 percent of eyewitness accounts. THAT’S how unreliable they are! In fact, eyewitness accounts are the leading cause of sending innocent people to prison for crimes they did not commit. And yet the courts insist that eyewitness accounts be used as admissible evidence!

Eyewitnesses can become overconfident regarding what it is they think they saw, and the more empowered they feel about picking a suspect out of photos or a lineup, the more likely they are to stick with their decisions – even if they’re wrong. And no two people will remember the same event in the same way. If you factor in variables such as how long the witness saw the suspect, the time of day, level of tiredness, eyesight, weather, and probably hundreds (thousands?) of different factors, you wonder how the 25 percent that get it right manage to get it right!

So Why Even Bother?

That 25 percent who manage to put the guilty where they belong continue making a case for why eyewitness testimonials enjoy mainstream acceptance. We can’t deny that some of them do get it right, particularly if they’ve been given sufficient time to memorize unique and verifiable details, like tattoos or particularly notable articles of clothing.

Best practices, such as double-blind identification which keeps both witnesses and law enforcement officials “in the dark,” a fair amount of selections, meticulous recording procedures, and explicit instructions to the witness before he or she makes a final decision can help prevent an eyewitness from making an incorrect choice. But since so many innocent people lose their freedom as a result of mistakes in this process, we believe the courts are better off relying on DNA evidence instead of something as fickle as human memory.

Cutting Through the Clutter

Thiessen Law Firm’s team of award-winning attorneys know how to maneuver the issues related to poor eyewitness testimonies. You deserve a fair trial, so sign up for a free consultation.

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