When a witness testifies about what happened during a crime or picks a suspect out of a lineup, there are a lot of factors that influence the decisions that they make. One of the biggest factors is whether or not they saw a weapon during the event.
By comparing those who saw weapons to those who did not, researchers found that the people who saw the weapons made more false identifications and fewer correct identifications.
This is often called the weapon focus effect. The general way that it works is fairly simple: A person who sees a weapon spends more time looking at that weapon. They put much less focus on the person holding the weapon. When that person gets arrested, the witness may remember more details about the weapon than the person’s face.
If you have been accused of a crime and a witness picked you out as the one who committed it, did the weapon focus effect play a role? Maybe someone who looked like you committed an armed robbery. The person being robbed spent the whole event staring in fear at a gun that person was holding. They never memorized the person’s face, and the vague impressions they have led them to think it was you — when you know that you did no such thing.
False accusations are both frightening and frustrating. It’s hard to know why it happens or what you should do. You feel overwhelmed. Don’t worry. You do have rights, and you do have legal options. Just take the time to carefully look into what they are.