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Eyewitness testimony is not as reliable as it seems

On Behalf of | Jun 5, 2024 | Criminal Defense

People often think of eyewitness testimony as a key factor in proving a suspect’s guilt. While it is a convincing form of evidence, it is not always correct.

It relies on human memory which is flawed and vulnerable to manipulation. Recent studies have linked eyewitness testimony to cases of wrongful conviction.

Misidentification leads to wrongful convictions

Eyewitness misidentification is the act of falsely identifying an innocent suspect in a crime.

A study by the Innocence Project found that the justice system cleared 358 people sentenced to death in the U.S. since 1989 and noted that misidentification played a role in 71% of these cases. The victims mentioned in the study spent an average of 14 years in prison.

Because of how common wrongful convictions are, the government of Minnesota signed a law requiring authorities to put up safeguards to protect its citizens from misidentification.

Without legal safeguards, innocent people are at the mercy of the limits of eyewitness testimony – and the limit of human memory.

The limits of the brain are the risk

The human brain’s ability to recall events is flawed and can lead to inaccurate retellings of events.

Studies published by the American Psychological Association show the following:

  • Memories fade over time
  • Information learned after an event can alter how you remember it
  • Bias can skew eyewitness testimony
  • Authority figures can influence your recollection of an event
  • Stress can make it hard to remember details

As you can see, the flaws in human memory can hurt eyewitness testimony. Even with Minnesota law directly addressing this risk, it is critical to be aware of how eyewitness testimony could affect a criminal case.

Therefore, it is crucial to know your rights and learn how to advocate for yourself, so you can protect yourself from misidentification.


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