Credible Eyewitnesses Are Key to a Fair Trial; Unreliable Eyewitnesses Can Be Key to an Acquittal
Research Shows That Human Memory Is Fallible
Scientific studies almost unanimously conclude that eyewitness testimony is unreliable due to the inability of the human mind to capture and preserve memories in the same way a camera does. Several factors affect an eyewitness’s ability to recall information, including:
- The passage of time – Memory decay occurs quickly. Even in the few hours between when an eyewitness sees an alleged crime and views a line-up or photo array of potential suspects, evidence of unreliability of the memory can be demonstrated. New information or experiences the eyewitness obtains even in this short period of time can influence his memory of the incident.
- Stress – Stress and anxiety impact an eyewitness’s perception of the alleged crime as well as his ability to recall the event later. In crimes involving weapons, stress levels are heightened, making memory even more unreliable.
- Distractions – Other activity occurring in the vicinity of the alleged crime can distract an eyewitness and affect his ability to recall what he observed with accuracy.
A Skilled Defense Lawyer Can Attack the Credibility of Eyewitnesses During Trial
Aggressive defense counsel know the right questions to ask and facts to bring out to put doubt in the judge or jury’s mind about the reliability of eyewitness testimony. Questions that highlight an eyewitness’s vision or hearing limitations or incapacity due to intoxication or drug use get to the heart of the eyewitness’s ability to perceive the alleged crime. Evidence of poor lighting or a long distance between the eyewitness and the crime scene also raises questions about the accuracy of the eyewitness’s testimony. Additionally, evidence demonstrating assumption or bias on the part of the eyewitness, based on race or a preconception, can play a key role in challenging eyewitness credibility.
There are several strategies zealous defense counsel use to attack an eyewitness’s credibility:
- Using Voir Dire (also called jury selection) to inform the jury that eyewitnesses sometimes make mistakes and to determine potential jurors’ beliefs about memory and perception
- Using opening statements and closing arguments to educate the jury on scientific findings about memory
- Making a motion to suppress to exclude eyewitness testimony due to credibility questions
- Using cross-examination to demonstrate to the jury that an eyewitness’s testimony is unreliable
- Using experts to educate the jury about the science behind memory and research on memory reliability
- Providing guidance in the jury Instructions about how to evaluate eyewitness testimony
- Using the appellate process to try to change existing case law to incorporate scientific findings on eyewitness memory and identification
Often attorneys use several of the outlined strategies to challenge the reliability of an eyewitness.
Indianapolis Criminal Defense Attorney John Razumich Can Help Challenge the Credibility of Eyewitnesses in Your Case
Attorney John Razumich aggressively defends Indiana residents against a wide range of criminal charges, from basic misdemeanors to complex felony charges. If you have been charged with a crime supported by eyewitness testimony, Mr. Razumich will fight for you every step of the way to get the best results, including challenging the credibility of the eyewitnesses.
This website has been prepared by John Razumich, Attorney at Law for informational purposes only and does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice. The information is not provided in the course of an attorney-client relationship and is not intended to substitute for legal advice from an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.