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How Reliable Is Eyewitness Testimony?

How Reliable Is Eyewitness Testimony?

Convicting someone for a crime should never be taken lightly. Imagine knowing that you are innocent, but a witness says you did it. Could they have been wrong? Maybe they had an ulterior motive?

Eye witness testimony reliability or unreliability is an important conversation to have. And a professional Minneapolis criminal defense attorney can help you understand how to defend yourself against witness claims.

But you should know what eye witness testimonies truly are, and whether or not they are reliable in court:

Eyewitness Testimony Definition

What is an eyewitness testimony? Legally, eyewitness testimony in court refers to a person’s re-telling of an event that they saw, felt, smelled, or heard, or otherwise experienced.

Therefore, what is an eyewitness? Someone who was physically present when the supposed crime took place.

Why is eyewitness testimony important? Because it can potentially be a source of evidence to convict a criminal who committed a crime like robbery or murder.

The importance of eyewitness testimony is significant. It can possibly be used to accurately explain what happened at the scene of a crime. But is it always reliable?

The Accuracy of Eyewitness Testimony

How reliable are eyewitness testimonies? Some researchers think that eyewitness testimony is reliable generally. However, there are several reasons that testimony should be called into question.

If a testimony is incorrect due to a flaw in the memory of the witness, it can lead to a wrongful conviction.

Why is Eyewitness Testimony Unreliable?

The reliability of eyewitness testimony has many problems. Here are some of the reasons that experts believe that witnesses may not provide accurate accounts:


The advent of DNA evidence became mainstream in the 1980s. This scientific approach is perhaps the most accurate form of identifying the connection between crime scenes and suspects.

When compared to DNA, testimony is a far second and much less accurate.

Mistaken Identification

There have been wrongful convictions due to eye witnesses. Even with photo lineups, witnesses can identify the wrong person as the offender.

A group of several witnesses can look at the same lineup and pick a different person as the suspect.

Mind Games

Human beings are not perfect, logical machines. Someone may have a good memory in general. However, as time goes on people tend to remember events less accurately.

This is due to something called memory contamination. The concept of what a witness believes happened can interfere with what actually happened.

Memory is very malleable. And this means that even the well-intentioned witnesses can often give false testimonies.

Leading Questions and Misconduct

Law enforcement officials and prosecutors can ask questions in such a way that directs the testimony. For instance, a study was done that proved that various people watching the same car accident can have different recollections.

They showed two groups of students a video of a car accident. To the first group, they asked how fast the cars were going when they “hit” each other. The second group was given a slightly different question, asking about the velocity when cars “smashed” into each other.

After the fact, when asked if they saw broken glass, the second group who heard the word “smashed” claimed they saw glass. The only problem? There was no broken glass in the video.

If a simple change in wording can create invented details in a witness testimony, how reliable can it possibly be?

Vision and Eyesight

Low light, darkness, or obstructions can interfere with a witness’ view. Furthermore, the witness himself might not have great eyesight to begin with.

Stressful Situations

Stress is known to distort one’s view of past events. It causes you to potentially remember details that didn’t happen, or forget important facts. For instance, the “weapon focus effect” causes victims to forget the details of the perpetrator while being fixated on the weapon itself.

Stress also affects memory. This means that memory is even less reliable than already established.

Inaccurate Suspect Attribution

Witnesses who watch a lineup may be likely to point out someone in the lineup that most represents the criminal they saw. However, this may result in an innocent person being identified.

Protecting Yourself Against Unreliable Testimony

Due to the various reasons that witnesses can be mistaken, it’s important to protect yourself against poor eyewitness testimony reliability. A DWI lawyer in Minneapolis can help you make your case while pointing out the inconsistencies in witness testimonies. That way, your trial is more likely to be fair and just.

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