If you have been accused of committing a crime, you might believe that testimony from someone who was there at the time would be devastating to your defense. However, the good news is that eyewitness research has revealed that these first-hand accounts aren’t always as accurate as they appear to be in movies or on television crime dramas.
How Accurate Are Eyewitnesses?
At the most basic level, the testimony of an eyewitness could confirm a state or federal charge that a person is guilty of committing a crime. However, based on impression and interpretation alone, one person could believe they saw someone do something that they actually did not. If an eyewitness mistakenly identifies a person as a culprit, the defendant could be convicted and face serious penalties, including incarceration, for a crime that they did not commit.
Research shows that 75 percent of false convictions are caused by unreliable eyewitness testimonies. How can this be the case? Aren’t people sure of who they see, especially during an event as important as a serious crime? Should not they, in theory, be the perfect person to confirm the details of what transpired on that day?
However, human memory is far from being perfect. In fact, a memory changes every time a person recalls it. This is why certain details may change, and stories seem to differ from the same person when they tell them on different days. Human memories can also be largely influenced by outside events or input; if a person is told that something happened a specific way, they are more likely to revisit their own memory and alter certain details to match what they have been told.
What Factors Influence an Eye Witness?
Eyewitness psychology focuses on exploring the different factors that contribute to a person’s perception and memory of an event. One of the biggest influences on memory is a person’s emotional state. At the time of the commission of a crime, someone is likely to be taken off guard. If the situation is dangerous, they will have increased adrenaline and likely running off a fight-or-flight response. In that scenario, their mind is going to hone in on certain details that are most relevant to securing their immediate safety or protecting someone else. This means they will miss out on other key details, which may ultimately falsely incriminate someone later.
Stress, bias and influence from others also influence eyewitness accuracy. Stress is present both at the time of an event and after; as a person rethinks what happens, the details are likely to change depending on how they feel. If they were questioned by police or investigators, the approach to questioning could influence how they recall the event. Seeing a man in a red hoodie may have been unimportant at the time, but if an officer leads questioning to identify a specific type of person, then the man in the red hoodie suddenly becomes a threat in the witness’s mind.
Eyewitness Testimony in a New Jersey Criminal Court
The best thing you can do is work with a Morristown criminal defense lawyer to determine whether an eyewitness’s report could be used against you in a court of law. A lawyer who has experience with these types of matters can gather important details and present them as accurately as possible to the court.
The New Jersey Supreme Court regulates eyewitness identifications and enforces strict standards for court proceedings. Ensuring that evidence is accurate prevents false convictions and further unnecessary stress for you.
Build the Best Case With a Morristown Criminal Defense Lawyer
If you are facing misdemeanor or felony criminal charges that are based in whole or in part on the testimony of alleged eyewitnesses, contact the offices of Greg A. Witosky, Esq., so that we can begin working on your defense strategy as quickly as possible. We know how to help our clients gather the strongest evidence and challenge erroneous testimony to the judge and members of the jury.