When a violent crime is committed, the police may use eyewitness testimonies against defendants to prove the defendant’s involvement in a crime. An eyewitness is a bystander or victim who can give an account of an event that’s under investigation. Eyewitnesses often give detailed recollections of events that transpired before, during and after a crime. Courts rely on the memories and points of view of eyewitnesses to prove whether a defendant did, in fact, commit a crime.
It’s often assumed that the events described by eyewitnesses are accurate, however, that’s often not the case. Studies have shown that memories are often far from reliable. Here’s what you should understand:
Memory isn’t as accurate as many people believe
The brain is a complex organ responsible for basic human function, thought, emotion, motor control and, importantly, memory. People rely on their memories to recall and reflect on past events and develop a sense of personality. Memory plays an important role in people’s lives, but memories are fluid and malleable.
Studies have shown that people often can’t remember events that happened only seconds ago. People may also remember events depending on if they expected events to turn out a specific way. Furthermore, people can be convinced by others that events didn’t play out exactly how they remembered.
People often assume that memory works much like a video – all you have to do is rewind the video to get an accurate and unbiased view of events. However, memory works a lot like creating a story using a series of pictures – much of the information is fabricated to make sense of events.
During an investigation, an eyewitness may be asked to describe witnessed events. A police investigation or personal bias could lead eyewitnesses to recall events differently than how events truly evolved. As a result, defendants can suffer from charges for violent crimes they didn’t commit.