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Common flaws that occur in eyewitness testimony

On Behalf of | Nov 19, 2023 | Criminal Defense

Being accused of a crime you didn’t commit in California can be the worst experience of your life. Even if you know you’re innocent, things can happen that skew the case. One of those issues is eyewitness testimony, and these are some of the common ways it can be flawed.

Factors affecting reliability

Certain factors can affect the reliability of eyewitness testimony, which can impact the criminal defense strategy in your case. Usually, people who witness a crime are under extreme stress and anxiety, which can affect their ability to accurately recall what happened later.

Most people don’t have photographic memories. Even if they got a good look at the events as they unfolded, they may remember things differently than reality. For example, an eyewitness might think they saw a perpetrator of a certain age range, but a person much older is brought in on suspicion of the crime.

Some witnesses are unreliable due to their own personal biases. This can lead to an individual stating that they saw a person of color committing a specific crime when the actual perpetrator is white.

In some cases, eyewitnesses can be silently urged by police officers to pick a specific person in a lineup. This can happen with a photo or physical lineup. The officer might not verbalize anything but can make a gesture that inaccurately steers the witness to pick a certain person.

Challenging eyewitness testimony

Sometimes, it’s necessary to challenge eyewitness testimony. If flaws are present, the defense has grounds to do exactly that. If the witness was within a certain distance away from the incident, the lighting was poor, there were obstacles present or the witness has visual impairment, the defense can argue that they couldn’t actually see the defendant.

Witness testimony may be flawed if there is an obvious bias against the defendant. If that bias can be proven, it can potentially negate the eyewitness’ account of the events.

A witness remembering events differently from how they originally recalled them is always problematic. The defense can argue that their testimony is unreliable and should be thrown out.