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Is eyewitness testimony really reliable?

On Behalf of | Mar 30, 2021 | Criminal Defense

Texas and all other states have relied heavily on eyewitness testimony for convictions in criminal cases. As humans, we tend to naturally accept eyewitness testimony for an exact replay of the events that happened. However, is this really a reliable form of evidence we should accept to put someone in jail?

Eyewitness testimony creates an emotional connection

When a witness takes the stand, it can be difficult for jurors not to find an emotional attachment with their words. It’s human nature to want to hold testimony higher than other forms of traditional evidence. In some cases, a federal criminal defendant may lose their case simply because there was eyewitness testimony against the defendant without any other form of evidence.

What makes it unreliable?

Eyewitness testimony can’t always be liable. This is because another part of human nature is bias and long-term memory problems. In various cases, the defense may prove eyewitness testimony unreliable in the event that the witness has some form of cognitive decline due to age.

Apart from physical issues, a witness’s testimony can be deemed unreliable due to mental factors. For example, an eyewitness to a crime may admit that they were focused on the weapon that was used. They can tell you what the gun looked like. However, it can be determined that due to their sole focus on the gun, they may not be a reliable witness for describing what the shooter of the weapon looked like.

Eyewitness testimony has been used for centuries as an important form of evidence. Unfortunately, society is discovering that not all of it can be trusted. The above are just some of the many factors that could deem it unreliable. For now, it’s clear that judges and jurors need to do their own assessment of whether or not a specific witness’s testimony is reliable or not.