Why witnesses’ testimony isn’t as accurate as people think

| Nov 9, 2020 | Criminal Defense |

If you have recently gotten charged with a criminal offense or if you know that you are the subject of an investigation, finding out that law enforcement officers or state prosecutors have a witness who will testify to the court can seem like a worst-case scenario.

After all, a witness could potentially place you at the scene of a criminal act or even claim to have seen you commit the crime in question. Even those who strongly attest to their own innocence may feel the need to plead guilty just because they believe that a witness will make it too hard to defend themselves.

The truth is that no evidence is truly incontrovertible. Even if the prosecution claims to have a witness to help build their case, eyewitness testimony isn’t as reliable as people think it is.

Human memory is fallible due to how it works and the power of emotions

Eyewitness testimony was once the gold standard for evidence in criminal cases. However, the courts have begun to place more emphasis on verifiable scientific evidence as opposed to testimony by eyewitnesses.

Psychological research has shown that there are several real issues with relying on eyewitness testimony. First of all, human memory is fallible and subject to outside influences. The more frequently someone gets asked questions or has to consider implications about a memory, the more possible it is for other people to influence how they remember them.

Emotion can also strongly influence how someone remembers the situation. Recalling the feelings they had might lead to dramatizing their recall to fit the intensity of the emotion that they experience or the story provided to them by law enforcement. Finding the narrative exciting or feeling important can lead people to exaggerate or even fabricate testimony.

What can you do when the prosecution has a witness?

If you intend to defend yourself against pending criminal charges, knowing what evidence the state has against you is a critical first step. Depending on the witness, their credibility and their statements, you may have multiple available strategies to counter the prosecution’s version of events.

Discussing the evidence against you with a criminal defense attorney can be an important step toward developing a working defense strategy.