When law enforcement officers in Panama City, and throughout Florida, are looking to solve a crime, they often rely heavily on statements from eyewitnesses. Such testimony has been long held by judges, juries and others as some of the most solid evidence. More and more, however, it is being shown that eyewitness testimony is not always accurate, which could lead to people being wrongfully convicted of offenses, including aggravated assault. According to the American Bar Association, more than three-quarters of the convictions that have eventually been overturned through DNA evidence relied on false eyewitness testimony.
WHAT CAUSES INACCURACIES?
In general, human memories do not work like video recordings. Therefore, they cannot be played back just as they happened. Instead, Scientific American reports, memories are actually reconstructed as people recall them. This means that a number of factors could impact how witnesses remember events, and the people who were involved in them. These factors may generally be categorized as system or estimator variables.
Some factors affecting the reliability of eyewitness testimony can be controlled by the criminal justice system. Commonly referred to as system variables, these typically involve the methods used by law enforcement officers to get information from witnesses. For example, if the agents conducting lineups know who the suspects are, they may make unintentionally suggestions to the witnesses as to who they should select. Likewise, using photos with differences, including size, lighting and background color, could make one suspect stand out to a witness over the other people pictured.
Other factors that may impact witnesses’ recollection of events are outside the control of the criminal justice system. These factors are generally known as estimator variables. There are numerous factors, which fall into this category, including the circumstances of the crime. According to Slate magazine, the length of time a witness had to see a suspect, the distance between a witness and the alleged crime or suspect, and even the lighting in the area where the crime occurred can affect eyewitness identifications and testimony.
Additionally, stress is a significant variable in many eyewitness inaccuracies. This is because highly stressful situations may impact people’s focus and lead to altered recollections of what transpired. For example, a person who witnesses a robbery in which the suspect has a gun may focus on the weapon, rather than on the person who is holding it.
SEEKING LEGAL COUNSEL
Even when proper care is taken to avoid tainting their testimony, eyewitnesses in Florida sometimes make inaccurate identifications or give false testimony. For those charged with crimes, this may result in wrongful convictions. In order to help protect their rights, those facing criminal charges may find it of benefit to obtain legal representation. An attorney may explain help them to build a solid defense, which may include questioning the testimony of eyewitnesses.