How accurate is eyewitness testimony?

On Behalf of | May 24, 2023 | Criminal Defense

When you face a California criminal charge for a violent, drug-related or another type of offense, eyewitness accounts may play a big role in determining whether that charge leads to a conviction. Many judges and juries find eyewitness testimony among the most convincing and compelling forms of evidence available. Yet, this does not always mean eyewitness testimony is reliable and accurate.

According to Psychology Today, many eyewitness accounts are not accurate. There are several reasons that this holds true.

How often eyewitness accounts are inaccurate

Research shows that mistaken eyewitness accounts place many innocent people behind bars. Across the United States, nearly 350 people have had their criminal convictions overturned once DNA evidence has shown that someone else has committed the offense in question. Of these overturned convictions, 70% involved inaccurate eyewitness identification.

Why eyewitness accounts may be inaccurate

A major reason many eyewitness recollections are inaccurate is that they involve a witness’s memory. Memories are malleable and susceptible to distortion over time. Studies show that many different factors impact the accuracy of an eyewitness’s memory. These factors include time, the use of drugs or alcohol or the suggestions of someone else. Another problem with eyewitness accounts is that many eyewitnesses do not provide their accounts of what occurred until long after the event has taken place. Studies show that the more time that passes between witnessing an event and recollecting what happened,  the more likely an eyewitness’s account will be incorrect.

Many other factors can impact the accuracy of an eyewitness’s recollections. Such factors include the manner in which law enforcement asks questions or conducts a lineup.

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