Let’s say you were at the bar on a Friday night, had some drinks and had a good time. You went home, got some sleep, and Saturday morning, the cops showed up and wanted to ask you some questions. There was a fight at the bar, and someone got hurt bad. Maybe died. An eyewitness placed you at the scene.
Even though science has repeatedly shown how faulty eyewitness testimony can be, witnesses still play a heavy role in American justice, and eyewitness testimony still carries a lot of weight with jurors. Such testimony can carry a lot of emotion, and though jurors are supposed to make rational decisions, that’s not how the human mind usually works.
Contesting an eyewitness account
If you ever find yourself wrongfully accused of murder or some other violent felony, there are several common strategies your lawyer might use to contest the witness’s account, including:
- Reveal bias: If a witness has a personal bias against you or a history of bias, you might argue that the testimony was based on motives, rather than facts.
- Challenge the lineup or photo array: If you’re ever called into a police lineup, ask to have your lawyer present. If the lineup was built so that you stood out, or if the police seemed to tip the witness, your lawyer can argue against the use of this evidence.
- Challenge the witness’ vision: Was it dark at night outside the bar? How far away did the witness claim to be? How many drinks had the witness consumed? Sometimes people simply don’t see what they thought they saw.
- Challenge the witness’s memory: If the witness cannot remember other facts clearly, how well can he or she be trusted to recall the facts that might condemn an innocent person?
Courts, cops and lawyers are all learning that eyewitness testimony is flawed, but we still have eyewitness testimony playing a role in more than 70% of all wrongful convictions.
Fighting against fiction
Eyewitnesses tell emotionally charged stories, and defending yourself from those fictions can be difficult. Humans aren’t moved by facts and figures as much as they are by stories, so if you ever find your life threatened by false accusations, you want to make sure your defense strategy is solid, powerful and effective.