In the past, the outcomes of criminal court cases relied heavily on eyewitness
testimony. A lot of credit was given to witnesses who were at the scene
of the crime, and their testimony often was a defining point in the courtroom.
After all, who would know better than someone who was there?
Recently, though, the reliability of eyewitness testimony has come under
fire. In about 75% of criminal cases that have been overturned through
DNA testing, eyewitness testimony was contributed or played a significant
factor. So why is eyewitness testimony so faulty? It’s really in
the psychology of memory.
While it used to be believed that the human mind can record and recall
events like a tape recorder, evidence supports that someone’s memories
and recollections can be changed or even completely fabricated from suggestive
questioning. Instead of asking a question like “How fast was the
attorneys must ask if the witness could estimate the speed of the vehicle.
Another memory study tested what is called reconstructive memory. Subjects
were told a complicated story about Native Americans and then asked to
retell the story a few times after some time had passed. Each time the
participants retold the story, they unknowingly altered their version.
While some facts were left intact, participants would fill in the gaps
with false information. These false recollections were purely accidental
and came from what psychologists call “schemas”. Schemas are
generalizations of the world based on previous experiences. For example,
expecting traffic at 9 a.m. Monday through Friday or checking the sell-by
date on milk.
Thankfully, changes to eyewitness testimony laws and regulations have been
encouraged and integrated by legal professionals across the country who
want fair trial procedures.
Carroll Troberman, PLLC will work hard to represent you in criminal court.
Contact ustoday for a free consultation.