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How credible is eyewitness testimony?

On Behalf of | Nov 3, 2021 | Violent Crimes |

In TV and the movies, eyewitness testimony is often what moves a case in a particular direction. For this reason, you might think that eyewitness testimony is one of the most convincing forms of evidence out there. However, this is not necessarily true. If you are facing a criminal charge in Arizona and there are eyewitnesses set to testify against you, it is important to understand that their accounts of what transpired may lack accuracy.

According to the Innocence Project, eyewitness misidentification has become so common that it is now the leading factor in wrongful convictions.

Recognizing issues with eyewitness accounts

Inaccurate eyewitness accounts were an issue in almost 70% of the 375 wrongful convictions that post-conviction DNA evidence later overturned. Sometimes, eyewitnesses may finger the wrong people because the person administering the lineup, who typically knows who the suspect is, looks in that individual’s direction. Eyewitness accounts are also the result of memories. Memories are fallible and prone to distortion over time.

Improving the accuracy of eyewitness accounts

What might law enforcement divisions do to help improve the accuracy of eyewitness accounts and prevent wrongful convictions? Some departments have begun conducting something called “double-blind” lineups. In these lineups, neither the witness nor the person conducting the lineup know who the suspect is. So, the administrator is unable to provide unintentional clues to his or her identity. Some departments are also reminding witnesses that the suspect may not be present at all to prevent eyewitnesses from feeling as if they have to pinpoint somebody, regardless of confidence level.

When an eyewitness fingers the wrong individual, it may lead to serious criminal consequences. It may also take time and resources away from law enforcement officials, making it harder for them to find the actual perpetrators.

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