When someone witnesses a crime, they may think that they remember exactly what happened. For instance, maybe they were in the lobby of a bank during an armed robbery. They spent nearly ten minutes in the same room as the robbers, who were not even wearing masks. It sounds logical that they would remember those individuals and be able to pick them out of a lineup, right?
While it sounds logical, it’s not always true. In gun crimes, the issue is sometimes known as “weapon focus.”
How weapon focus works
Generally, weapon focus means that the person who is witnessing the crime is preoccupied with the weapon itself. This, of course, stems from fear and anxiety. If a handgun is pointed in their direction, they stare at the gun itself.
The issue is that they may miss other details and not be able to give an accurate account of what happened. All they were thinking about was that gun.
This can cause serious problems when they try to pick someone out of a lineup. They may not be able to recognize the person’s face or note obvious identifiers like tattoos or even hair color. They just have a fuzzy idea of what the person generally looked like, and that can lead to misidentification. They may pick out someone who fits the basic characteristics, but who really looks much different than the actual perpetrator of that crime.
Witness testimony can be unreliable
This is just one more reason why it’s dangerous to trust any witness testimony. Witnesses get it wrong all the time, even when they should logically be giving accurate information. Those accused of serious crimes need to know about all of their legal defense options.