It is bewildering to think that you could go to prison for a crime in California that you did not commit simply because a stranger believed that he or she saw you at the scene. Unfortunately, the chances of that happening are uncomfortably high.
According to the California Innocence Project, eyewitness testimony is often the most compelling evidence an accused person faces, even though a staggering 25% of those identifications are inaccurate. We understand that one of these mistakes could destroy your life. That is why we take the time to fully understand the science behind how external factors can influence an eyewitness’s memory.
The effect of law enforcement on misidentification
A study conducted at the University of San Francisco found that eyewitnesses often felt obligated to assist authorities when interviewed. This social pressure might lead them to different conclusions than they would reach when recalling an incident on their own.
Researchers also believe that the standard American interview process can further damage an eyewitness’s recollection when officers interrupt their narrative to coax them down a particular path. Often, the interviewer’s word selection can be enough to spark distortion and cause a witness to modify the memory unconsciously.
Other influences on the accuracy of eyewitness memory
There is inherent anxiety involved with any witness to a crime, whether the victim or a bystander. The stress level may be so high that the person has a hard time remembering what happened. Coupled with leading questions from law enforcement, this might easily lead to a false memory.
Other significant factors can include:
- Weapon fixation taking focus from the suspect
- Defining characteristics altered by disguises during the commencement of a crime
- Unintentional signaling during a lineup
There is much study done on how suggestion impacts memory and how it can affect your life if you find yourself caught in a web of misidentification. You can learn more about defending against criminal charges on our website.