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Connecticut criminal defense lawyer for eyewitness testimonyWhen a person faces criminal charges, a prosecutor will present evidence that is meant to show that they are guilty beyond all reasonable doubt. This would seem to be a high standard that ensures that a person will only be convicted if there is no uncertainty about whether they actually committed the crime they are accused of. Unfortunately, the reality in many criminal cases is much different, and people are often convicted based solely on the testimony of eyewitnesses. While people’s observations may seem to be reliable, studies have shown that there are many factors that can affect what a witness sees and remembers, and as a result, many people have been wrongfully convicted.

The Problems With Eyewitness Testimony

“You don’t remember what happened. What you remember becomes what happened.” -John Green

Most people trust what they see, and because of this, they will believe witnesses who report that they observed a crime and can identify a suspect. However, many people do not realize how unreliable witnesses’ memories actually are. Scientists who have studied these issues report that there are many reasons why people may fail to properly recall what they believe they saw, and they often involve uncertainty and bias.

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eyewitness, East Hartford criminal defense attorneyConsider a hypothetical scenario in which you are in line at your bank waiting for a teller to call you over. Suddenly, at one of the other teller windows, you see a person holding a gun. The person is yelling for everyone to get down and demanding that the bank employee hand over cash. You realize that there is little to be gained from arguing with a person holding a gun, so you get down on the floor and cover your head with your arms—but not before you sneak a look at the would-be robber’s face.

Now for the million-dollar question: Would you be able to accurately describe the face you saw when the police get your statement later? If you were like most people, you would probably answer the question with a resounding “yes.” If you really were like most people, however, the description you give would probably not match images taken from the bank’s security cameras as closely as you might expect, even though you reported everything exactly as you remembered it.  This is one the major weaknesses in eyewitness testimony and one of the most important things to keep in mind if anyone ever claims that they saw you commit a crime.

Child Shooting Victim in Houston

On Sunday, December 30, a 7-year-old Houston girl named Jazmine Barnes was killed when a gunman opened fire on the car in which she, her sisters, and her mother were sitting. When the mother and her surviving daughters were asked what they saw, they told police they remembered a red pickup truck being driven by a thin white man in his 30s or 40s who had a five-o’clock shadow. For several days, police in the area used the description as a basis for their investigation, but an anonymous tip started pushing investigators in a different direction.

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