Can eyewitness accounts of crimes be inaccurate?

Can eyewitness accounts of crimes be inaccurate?

We see it on television and in movies all the time. During a criminal trial, a witness points at the defendant and says, “I saw them commit the crime.”

Such evidence may seem clear cut, but this is not always the case. Eyewitness accounts are often inaccurate.

Why are eyewitness accounts sometimes inaccurate?

Eyewitness accounts can be influenced by estimator variables. Estimator variables include situational variables, target variables and witness variables.

Situational variables involve the circumstances surrounding the alleged crime. For example, if it was dark or rainy, the witness’ visibility may be diminished. This means they may not have been able to accurately assess what was happening.

Target variables involve the physical characteristics of the alleged perpetrator of the crime, such as hair color or the color of the alleged perpetrator’s clothing. An eyewitness might not accurately recall these features, especially with the passage of time.

Witness variables involve the witness’ personal characteristics. For example, a witness who wears glasses may have poor vision if their prescription lenses are too weak. This could mean they did not see what they thought they saw.

These variables can make eyewitness testimony inaccurate. They can be used to call into question a witness’s testimony, with varying degrees of success.

Eyewitness accounts and wrongful convictions

Inaccurate eyewitness accounts can lead to wrongful convictions. This is a serious issue.

A defendant can only be found guilty if there is evidence proving so beyond a reasonable doubt. A violation of this basic Constitutional right has serious consequences and might be challenged in court.  In a criminal trial, the defense can argue that an inaccurate eyewitness account should cast doubt on the defendant’s guilt. If this doubt is reasonable, the defendant must be acquitted.

If you or someone you love is in trouble based on a supposed eyewitness, it is vital to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney with experience deconstructing eyewitness testimony.