Are the testimonies of eyewitnesses accurate?

An eyewitnesses account of a crime may be affected by changing confidence, muddled memories and stressful lineups situations.

Eyewitnesses can be used in a variety of Tennessee criminal cases to help either the prosecutor or the defense prove a point. However, these testimonies might not always be as accurate as everyone thinks. In fact, the National Center for Biotechnology Information states that roughly 75 percent of the 312 DNA exonerations in the country were initially convicted because of eyewitness error. Someone who saw a store owner getting robbed at gunpoint, for example, might not accurately remember the details of the robber or the incident.

Confidence can be miscalculated

Bystanders may give their initial statement to an investigator with reservations. They might express doubts about their memory of the crime by giving contradicting details about the color of the vehicle or appearance of the suspect. However, as the investigation continues, these same witnesses may start to feel more confident in their testimonies if they are told another onlooker said the same thing. Their reservations disappear, but that does not mean they truly remember the incident any better.

Being confident is not necessarily bad, but many jurors and judges will use the witness' confidence as a guide for the accuracy of their testimony. If a person seems sure of the details of the crime, a judge may be more inclined to trust what he or she has to say.

Memories can change

No matter what kind of crime a person is acting as witness to, his or her memories of the event may be malleable. Seeing criminal activity take place can be traumatic, so a bystander may be looking for a better understanding of what they saw. When friends or family members rehash the event with the eyewitness, their leading questions may change the way the observer remembers what happened. Most of the time, witnesses do not realize their memories are changing.

Lineups can lead to false accusations

When a witness is told a suspect is in the lineup, he or she may feel compelled to mark someone as guilty. However, many factors can affect a person's ability to pick someone out of a group of people. For example, lighting may change a person's features. The police officers involved in the lineup could also affect how a witness looks at each suspect. When the onlooker has to choose a person to help an investigation continue, he or she may point out a person even if the memory is not clear.

Eyewitnesses in Tennessee can help make or break a criminal case, but these testimonies might not always be as accurate as expected. No matter the type of crime a person is accused of, it may beneficial for a him or her to work with an attorney who has experience in this part of the law.