Eyewitnesses are unreliable

After an arrest, you find yourself heading to court. The prosecution claims to have eyewitnesses from the scene of the crime. These witnesses say they saw you there and they think they can put you away for the alleged illegal activity.

You know that the jury often listens to eyewitnesses, especially when they are impartial. They’re just people who happened to be there at the time, so they’re honestly trying to explain what happened.

Here’s the catch: You didn’t do it. If those eyewitnesses say that they saw you there, are they lying? Or are they just wrong? How could they accuse you of doing something you had nothing to do with at all?

The truth about eyewitnesses

The reality is that repeated studies have shown that eyewitnesses are unreliable and untrustworthy. They make mistakes. They get basic facts wrong. They accuse people of crimes, only to see those people get cleared later by outside evidence like video footage or DNA evidence.

It happens far more often than many people realize. They assume an eyewitness has nothing to hide and will tell the truth. Then the eyewitness picks someone out of a lineup even though that person had nothing to do with the crime.

Are they lying?

You may quickly discount it as a lying eyewitness when they testify against you, but is that really what is happening? Do they even have a reason to lie?

They could be lying. Maybe they’re biased against you based on your age, race, religion or some other factor, and they want to send you to jail no matter what. It does happen.

What is more common, though, is that the eyewitness is just making a mistake. They’re not intentionally lying. They think they are telling the truth. This is why they can convince a jury. To the jury, the witness looks honest and earnest and trustworthy. That’s because the witness does not even know they are wrong.

The reasons that happens are many. Sometimes, it’s bias, just as noted above. The person assumes you did it. Other times, they got distracted by something else. This often happens in armed robberies, when witnesses tend to look at the gun more than the person’s face. In other cases, the witness just remembers things incorrectly because the crime happened very quickly and it was all so unexpected.

A witness’s mistake

While you may feel glad that the witness is not lying about you, the issue is that a witness who simply makes a mistake can still sway a jury and impact your case. And they could still be wrong. If this happens, it’s very important for you to know what legal defense options you have.