David L. McCormick

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Is eyewitness testimony always credible?

On Behalf of | Sep 16, 2021 | Criminal Law

Credible eyewitnesses could impress a jury and leave a defendant looking at a guilty verdict. Assumptions that all witnesses in a Minnesota criminal case are credible could be entirely incorrect. That does not mean that the witness intends to commit perjury as much as that eyewitness testimony is not always reliable. A solid cross-examination may point out problems with the witness’s statements.

Common troubles with eyewitness testimony

One troubling issue with eyewitness testimony is that witnesses make mistakes. A witness might assume they saw a particular person when they saw a completely different individual. Several factors could contribute to misidentification, including poor lighting and distance. Even the witness’s poor eyesight may lead to mistaken identity and a false arrest.

Confusion and stress might undermine a witness’s perceptions. With violent crimes, the chaos could confuse witnesses about what happened. Things may occur so quickly, and a witness may attempt to fill in gaps in perception. The recollections about the event might be inaccurate.

Worrisome violations of defendant’s rights

Witness testimony may suffer from bias. Predjudices could factor into why a witness believes he or she saw a specific person even though the person identified did nothing wrong.

Some instances of criminal law cases involve the police guiding a witness to make preferred statements. Leading a witness to choose someone out of a lineup or collection of photographs might lead to an innocent person’s conviction. When law enforcement violates a defendant’s civil rights, a judge may bar the evidence from the court. Witness testimony might be inadmissible if the police encouraged or coerced falsehoods.

Counter evidence could help address a witness’s inaccurate testimony. A more credible witness might refute assertions from a less credible one. And then, DNA evidence may rule a defendant out as an assailant. If enough evidence points to innocence or creates reasonable doubt, a defendant may experience an outcome reflective of the truth.