Eyewitness testimony is frequently used in courtrooms in Memphis and all over the U.S. in criminal defense trials. This testimony has been seen as reliable in identifying perpetrators and recounting alleged criminal offenses. But, recently, evidence has come out showing that humans may not have as good of a memory as previously though, and their powers of observation may be limited.

The ability for an eyewitness to recognize an individual is imperfect. Limitations with eyewitnesses can result in serious, unfair penalties for defendants, including an extensive prison sentence and an excessive fine. In addition to biological limitations, law enforcement agencies do not have a standardized way of using eyewitnesses to identify criminals. Criminal line-ups can be sequential, where a witness is showed one person at a time, or the line-ups can be simultaneous where a witness views several people at once. Research is still needed to show which line-up technique is more effective.

Eyewitness accounts have been found to be inaccurate for many years now. There are many factors that can lead to mistaken identities. These factors include dim lighting when the alleged crime occurred, limited sighting of the alleged offender, and stressful or distracting elements that may have affected the witness, such as the presence of a weapon. Witnesses are also found to be unable to identify a suspect correctly when he or she is a member of another race. A witness can also be affected by a law enforcement officer’s body language when shown a particular photo or by the order of which a line-up is presented to them.

Memories of a crime can also fade, get distorted, become reconstructed or updated. All of these factors can compromise a witness’s ability to identify the correct suspect. Thus, with so many difficulties, those facing a criminal charge should consider speaking with an experienced Memphis criminal defense attorney to determine which defense approach is right for them.

Source: The National Academies, “Report urges caution in handling and relying upon eyewitness identification in criminal cases, recommends best practices for law enforcement and courts“, Oct. 2, 2014