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Why eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable

On Behalf of | Nov 28, 2021 | Criminal Defense

If you are arrested for a crime, one of the tactics police use to get you to revoke your Constitutional rights is to claim that there are one or more eyewitnesses to your alleged involvement in the crime. Sometimes this is true, but often it is another example of police intimidation.

But even if there really are eyewitnesses, that doesn’t mean that your case will be a slam-dunk for the prosecution. Read on to learn why eyewitness testimony can be completely unreliable in court.

Multiple factors influence eyewitness accounts

It seems simple enough on the surface. Multiple people saw a crime occur and can describe the events that they witnessed. But when those same eyewitnesses retell what they thought they saw, major discrepancies can occur. One person might describe the alleged defendant as “tall, at least 6’ or more,” while others claim he was of average height and no taller than 5’8” or 5’9”.

Cops phrase their questions to get witnesses to respond a certain way

When the police interrogate eyewitnesses, they can phrase their questions in ways that “lead” the witnesses to make certain statements. For instance, if the alleged crime involved a motor vehicle, instead of asking how fast the vehicles were going, they may refer to the car in question as the “speeding vehicle.” This reinforces the notion that the driver of the car was already breaking the law.

A staunch defense can dismantle eyewitness testimony

All is not lost if the prosecution introduces eyewitnesses to your alleged criminal activity. Your criminal defense attorney can attack the eyewitnesses’ testimony from different angles, including addressing poor eyesight and the inherent biases we all have. 

Building a strong defense begins with your arrest, so make sure you invoke your right to remain silent until you confer with your counsel.

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