Eyewitnesses enjoy more credibility than they should. It has resulted in courts convicting many innocent people and even sentencing some to death.
While some eyewitnesses lie on purpose, most are simply not as reliable as they think. This is because human memory is not as reliable as people think.
What can affect the memory someone has of an event?
There are several reasons that people say they saw something they did not. For example:
- They had been drinking: The police charge you with an incident outside a bar. If the eyewitness had been drinking in the bar, then alcohol may have affected their reliability. If you have ever woken up with a sore head, wondering how you got home, then you will understand that alcohol can make it hard to remember the facts.
- They did not get a clear view: Many things can affect your ability to see clearly. These include the lighting, the weather, the distance and whether or not you were wearing your glasses. In many cases, it would be hard to get a clear look at someone even if you were trying. Yet, many eyewitnesses were not trying. They are reporting something they glimpsed in passing.
- They have a poor memory: Think back to exams at school. Some kids were way better at them because they read something once and remembered it. Others could study just as hard and still fail due to an inability to retain details. If someone has trouble remembering faces, dates, times and other details, then it makes no sense to assume the information they give police is correct.
Discovering how to challenge eyewitness credibility could mean the difference between walking free and facing a long term in jail.