Witness Reliability May be Faulty

Posted in Offbeat11 years ago • Written by MAKNo Comments

The human mind is a very interesting thing. It is the most complex and fascinating “computer” in the world. However, the brain is more apt to make errors than a computer is, and that is something that can cause major fits for law enforcement, the courts, victims, and suspects in a case. The reliability of witness statements is not always accurate, even in the case of trained observers. Being an eyewitness to a crime does not always mean that you remember everything that you saw clearly. The brain can be quite deceptive when it wishes. It is not that you or any other witness is lying. Your brain may be filling in details that weren’t there though. Why does this happen?

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Memories are Not Photos

One of the things that we have to realize is that memories are not photographs. While we may believe that we have an accurate memory of what happened or what someone was wearing, our memories could have a flaw. Even though you might be certain that you saw someone wearing a red dress at the counter during the time of the jewelry heist, it might not be true. Other events that happened after the fact may well be coloring your memory so to speak.

This is why many find eyewitness testimony to be subject in many cases, even though the courts consider it heavily. Forensic psychologists, such as Scott Fraser, believe that even the most vivid memories we have are not likely to be 100% accurate. He recently gave a talk on TED Talks, which goes over the same subject. It is fascinating to think that the reality we know in our hearts and minds may not actually be reality. Your reality is going to vary from everyone else’s perceptions as well since they all filter their own view of reality and the past. It leaves one to wonder just what is real and what may be a misfire in the memory.

In the Criminal World

For witnesses to crimes, as well as the victims and the suspects the witnesses accuse, this is no laughing matter though. It makes one question the validity of many eyewitness testimonies that could have landed people in prison.

Of course, not all witnesses are going to be wrong, nor should one discount all witnesses in criminal cases. It is going to be up to the attorneys, the judges, and the juries to be able to determine the reliability of a witness. This can sometimes fall under the purview of a forensic psychologist to determine.

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Last year, the Supreme Court looked at the reliability of eyewitness testimonies and found that they did not believe the courts needed to look further into these testimonies to determine their credibility than they already were doing. They claim that the attorneys are already able to have the judge remind juries that eyewitness testimony can be unreliable. However, something that they may not have considered is the fact that the juries may find the stories of an eyewitness compelling, even if they are not entirely accurate. They may still believe that the eyewitness was correct. Sometimes they are and sometimes they are not. Thus, it should fall to the attorneys to be able to prove guilt or innocence in other ways.

Will They Disappear from the Courts?

Even though eyewitness accounts might not always be reliable, they are likely to stay a part of the criminal justice system for many more years. The only thing that we can hope to do is find better ways to proving or disproving the eyewitness accounts to ensure that only the right people are going to jail for crimes.


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