Eyewitness testimony is one of the most recognized legal terms. Whenever an accident, robbery, or shooting takes place, eyewitness accounts will be taken down on a police report and may be used later in depositions and testimonies. However, studies show that eyewitness testimonies can be incorrect, unreliable, or misleading, and should be treated the same way as “trace evidence” by law enforcement officials.
Psychologists are claiming that eyewitness accounts may be skewed by a variety of situations. Some of these variables include stress, anxiety, presence of a weapon, police or attorney leading questions, and the distance of the suspect from the witness, just to name a few. Stress and anxiety can alter a person’s perception of what actually took place. Something called reconstructive memory takes place when someone attempts to block out memories or situations that aren’t deemed acceptable or tolerant. Schemas are developed and the brain actually rewrites history in order to create a different outcome or scenario.
Similarly, the presence of a weapon can increase stress in an eyewitness, leading to an alteration in perception. The witness in fact focuses on the weapon rather than the criminal suspect, thus leading to a misrepresentation of what he or she actually looked like.
Reconstructive memory also takes place when eyewitnesses are asked leading questions posed by police officers or attorneys. Impressions of what happened may blur or alter what actually occurred when asked to recount what took place. Once again, this links back to stress and anxiety. These aforementioned variables can all lead to an increase in a suspect’s mistakes.
Studies claim that eyewitness testimony is accountable for a majority of the wrongful convictions in today’s legal system. As a result, these testimonies are continually being expelled through other resources and tests during the criminal process. If you or someone you know is in need of assistance with your legal matters, contact Beau Dietl & Associates to handle all of your needs.