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Potential issues with eyewitness testimony

On Behalf of | Jan 27, 2023 | Criminal Defense

Eyewitness testimony is a critical aspect of the criminal justice system as it can be used to identify suspects, establish motives and provide evidence in court. However, research has shown that eyewitness testimony can be unreliable and prone to error, leading to wrongful convictions and miscarriages of justice in South Carolina.

Influence of external factors

One major problem with eyewitness testimony is that memories can be easily influenced by external factors. For example, eyewitnesses may be influenced by the leading questions of investigators, the presence of other eyewitnesses or the passage of time. This can lead to the creation of false memories or the alteration of real memories.

Prior knowledge comes into play

Another problem with eyewitness testimony is that people often make assumptions about what they see based on their prior knowledge and experiences. This can lead to the creation of illusory correlations, where people believe that they have seen a correlation between events when none actually exists.

Presentation-based bias

Eyewitnesses may be biased by the way that suspects are presented to them. Research has shown that people are more likely to identify a suspect as the perpetrator if they are presented with a lineup in which the suspect stands out in some way, such as being the only person of a different race or the only person wearing a certain clothing item.

Emotional and mental state

Finally, eyewitnesses may be influenced by their own emotions and mental states. For example, if an eyewitness is under stress or experiencing high levels of anxiety, they may be more likely to make mistakes or misinterpret what they see. Eyewitness testimony is a critical aspect of criminal defense, but it can be unreliable and prone to error.

Understanding the potential issues with eyewitness testimony

To address these issues, legal systems have been implementing measures such as double-blind lineups, where the administrator does not know who the suspect is and requiring recordings of eyewitness identifications to be admitted as evidence in court. It’s important to keep in mind that eyewitness testimony should be used with caution and considered together with other forms of evidence such as DNA or fingerprint analysis.