Eyewitnesses Aren’t as Reliable as People Assume
Dec. 9, 2020
Have computers distorted our ability to think clearly about our own memories? We often think of memories as if the brain is a computer and can record and recount everything with flawless accuracy. In reality, though, this is far from the truth.
Take, for example, the fact that most wrongful convictions have at least some element of inaccurate eyewitness testimony. These convictions are overturned based on far more solid evidence, like DNA evidence, so we know for a fact that the conviction was made in error. This often means that we know that the eyewitness was wrong.
Now, there are cases where eyewitnesses may give an inaccurate account on purpose, but that’s not generally what happens. What usually takes place is that the eyewitness did not see something clearly or does not recall it accurately, but they think they do. They then testify to what they think happened, even when that is not what happened.
As this shows, the human brain is not nearly as reliable as a computer. Memories change. Biases impact them. They fade over time. When an eyewitness gives testimony in a case, it may be true and accurate, but it may not. Treating it the same way that we treat hard evidence, like a video recording, would be a mistake. That’s what puts people behind bars for crimes that they never actually committed in the first place.
If you have been accused of a crime, you may be worried that this is going to happen to you, and it’s important to understand your defense options.