The justice system in the United State is supposed to err on the side of letting guilty people go, as long as that means that innocent people do not get convicted. Unfortunately, with the scores of overturned convictions since the rise of DNA evidence, it’s very clear that this does not always work out as intended.
One thing that is very interesting about these overturned convictions is that many of them have one thing in common: Eyewitnesses testified that the person was guilty when the DNA evidence later proved they were innocent. This has raised a lot of questions about how often eyewitnesses give inaccurate accounts, and it turns out that they do it with a fair bit of frequency. They are certainly not reliable at all.
Why does this happen?
It’s possible that a witness would be malicious and lie about what they saw, but most witnesses are entirely disconnected from the event. For instance, a man walking home from work may witness a violent robbery. He has no reason to lie, he does not know the people involved and he didn’t expect to see the robbery. Why would he misidentify someone or give an inaccurate account?
One potential reason is already noted above: He didn’t expect to see it. Witnesses are often unprepared for the events quickly unfolding around them. Someone who saw the crime take place may only have seen the person’s face for a split second. Can they really remember it?
In addition, the conditions under which they witness the crime could be relatively poor. If it happens at night, was visibility too low? If they’re a long distance away, can they really see clearly? It’s not as if they’re intentionally set up to get the details right.
Finally, witnesses often experience changes to their own memories. Science has shown that memories change with time and recall, so they may think they remember things accurately when that’s simply not the case.
What are your options?
If you’re facing criminal charges, you absolutely need to know what legal options you have to help ensure that justice is really served.