It’s a distressing situation — you’re on trial for allegedly committing a crime. The prosecution calls an eyewitness to the stand. Your palms start to sweat. Surely, whatever this person says against you will condemn you, even if you’re innocent. Right?
Not necessarily. Eyewitness accounts are not always the most reliable forms of evidence. In fact, there are several factors that can skew an eyewitness’s testimony.
When someone witnesses a crime, it can happen so suddenly and unexpectedly that they can’t take in every detail before it’s over. Because of this, it can be difficult to put together the pieces and create an accurate recounting of what they saw.
Many times, police officers, investigators and prosecutors take advantage of this phenomenon. They might ask leading questions to get an eyewitness to give an answer that criminalizes you. Other times, they might make blatant suggestions in order to get an eyewitness to agree with them.
Some people are raised with certain opinions and beliefs about specific racial, ethnic or religious groups. Because of this, eyewitnesses who hold firm to preexisting biases about those groups are more likely to criminalize a person who fits those discriminatory beliefs, even if they are innocent.
In this regard, eyewitness testimonies are extremely problematic because they are based only on the feelings and assumptions that they have about another specific person.
Sometimes, the unreliability of an eyewitness comes down to something as simple as the time of day and the weather conditions at the time of the crime. Sunny days and extremely bright light might make it difficult for the eyewitness to see what happened. Conversely, crimes that occur at night can easily mask the defining features of the perpetrator.
In snowy, rainy or foggy conditions, the offender might have been wearing a hat and coat. That, plus the added obstacle of heavy rain or snowfall, can easily obstruct an eyewitness’s clear view of the crime.
Fight against the injustice of a faulty testimony
An inaccurate eyewitness testimony can lead to a wrongful conviction. While many courts depend on eyewitness accounts to add evidence to criminal allegations, you can’t always depend on them to give to true accounts. When your freedom is on the line, it can be beneficial to have a supportive and knowledgeable defense attorney by your side who can fight against unreliable eyewitness evidence.