Witness testimony often carries a lot of weight in the court of public opinion. In some cases, all it takes is a news report. One person saying that another person is guilty of the crime is enough for many people to assume that that witness is telling the truth and that guilt has already been established, even if the court case hasn’t taken place yet.
This can be very problematic, especially if the jury is likewise swayed. After all, witness testimony is notoriously unreliable. Many wrongful convictions happen when witnesses don’t tell the truth. This doesn’t mean that those witnesses are lying on purpose, however. They may believe they’re telling the truth, even though they’re not.
The telephone game
The big problem is that a person‘s memory doesn’t work like a video camera. It works like the telephone game.
In that game, children will whisper a phrase to each other in a line. The phrase becomes distorted over time, and it changes from one child to the next. By the end of the line, it may be nearly unrecognizable.
The same thing happens with memory. Every time someone thinks of a memory or talks about it, there is the potential that that memory could change. Details can shift.
For instance, if a witness reads a news report saying that the suspect was wearing a blue shirt, they may start to “remember” that they saw someone in a blue shirt. They did not. Their brain didn’t store that information and they don’t remember the color of the shirt. But their memory has been distorted and the next time that they tell the story, they will think that it is a genuine memory.
What options do you have?
If you’re facing criminal charges and there are witnesses testifying against you, it’s very natural to be concerned about this process. The key is to focus on your criminal defense options at this time.