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Can eyewitnesses be wrong?

On Behalf of | Dec 16, 2022 | Violent crimes

To charge you with a crime, the prosecution typically needs to have compelling evidence against you – such as eyewitness testimony. These are people who may have seen what happened or might even be the alleged victim of a crime.

There is a tendency to take eyewitnesses at their word. But, the truth is that human memory is not infallible. Everyone can make mistakes. An honest eyewitness could still get things wrong, and here’s why:

Panic impacts the memory 

Many crimes, particularly those that involve violence, are over within a matter of seconds. During this very short time, the majority of individuals will become adrenalized, which can lead them to panic. When they’re in a state of panic, they’re not necessarily thinking clearly. Their instinct will probably be survival and not being able to accurately put together the pieces of what’s happened at a later date. 

Humans are suggestible 

It’s a common misconception to think of the memory in terms of a recorded video that can be played back. The truth is that memories are largely constructed. Often, individuals will recall historical events fairly accurately, but there are nearly always inaccuracies and missing components. In a criminal case, this could be the difference between identifying someone correctly and getting the wrong person. 

The standard of proof required in criminal cases is to prove guilt beyond all reasonable doubt. A questionable eyewitness account creates this reasonable doubt. Having legal guidance on your side will help you to pick holes in the prosecution’s case.