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The reliability of eyewitness testimony in criminal cases

| Apr 13, 2021 | Criminal Defense |

A lot is at stake for Maryland residents formally charged with a criminal offense. The situation becomes more troubling for defendants who face a witness that will testify under oath that they are guilty as accused. Defendants that find themselves in this position may find it tempting to take a plea bargain to lessen a potential sentence even if they are not guilty of the crime.

Perceptions of witness testimony

Most people have watched a dramatic scene on television that includes an emotional account of a crime perpetrated by a defendant sitting in the courtroom. The most intense part of the scene will often show the witness pointing to where the defendant is seated once prompted to do so by the prosecutor. All in the courtroom and watching on television know the defendant’s destiny becomes sealed at that point.

Witness testimony plays a critical role in real-life criminal cases but is not nearly as decisive a factor as in the movies. Some criminal defense specialists go as far as asserting that witness testimony is highly unreliable.

Witness reliability

The Innocence Project includes a group of defense attorneys and students that perform their investigation into questionable murder convictions. The Project found that eyewitness testimony was a critical component in 78 percent of the wrongful convictions observed.

A study conducted at the University of Virginia sought to test witness reliability for people aged 60 years and older. The fact older people were not as accurate regarding recollections of crimes as people half their age came as no surprise to researchers. The findings that surprised them is that older witnesses are more adamant than others regarding their testimony despite the increased inaccuracy.

This finding highlights a problem for defendants. Older witnesses will likely appear confident in their account to the jury despite flaws in their testimony. Other factors like poor vision and stress will also add to the unreliability of eyewitness accounts of a crime.

Individuals accused of criminal offenses will need to prepare a legal defense to protect against harsh consequences. A criminal defense attorney may be able to help defendants with defense preparation.