Eyewitness testimony is no longer trusted the way that it used to be. DNA evidence has proven that it can be very inaccurate. For example, of all the convictions that have been overturned, more than 70% were originally made due in part to eyewitness testimony.
People are often surprised to learn this. An eyewitness shouldn’t lie and wouldn’t gain anything by doing so. Why would they give an inaccurate account of what happened? Are they lying on purpose just so that the accused gets convicted?
In actuality, many eyewitnesses honestly believe that they are telling the truth. There’s an unconscious process by which memory can be distorted over time. Some say that memory can be changed with each recall. The eyewitness doesn’t know that this is happening. They believe that the memory they’re relying on is accurate, even though they’re getting the details wrong.
For example, people can sometimes change their memories by adding new information. Maybe the eyewitness saw the event take place but doesn’t remember what color shirt the accused was wearing. Then they see a news report saying that a person in a blue shirt was responsible for the crime. They think back on the event and realize that yes, they do remember a blue shirt.
But do they really remember it? Or have they just altered that memory? When they bring it up again, they may very well think that the blue shirt is an authentic part of the original memory, but it may be an added detail that has no bearing in reality.
Overall, memory is not nearly as precise and accurate as many people assume. As a result, those facing allegations from eyewitnesses need to know about all their legal defense options.