If you face criminal charges, the prosecution will feel much more confident if they have an eyewitness willing to testify against you. They will rightly believe that this person could have the ability to sway a judge or jury toward believing you committed the crime.
While juries and judges do tend to believe eyewitnesses, research suggests they should not be so keen to. The reason is that they are often wrong, causing innocent people to be convicted. Occasionally, this is intentional. For example:
- If a person with a grudge against someone wants to frame them for a crime in revenge for an earlier act
- If a person seeks to escape conviction for a crime they (or someone they are protecting) committed by saying someone else did it
- If someone believes they will win favor with the police or court system by helping them get a conviction
Often, there is no malice behind the incorrect testimony. It’s just that the eyewitness’ memory has let them down.
Memories are malleable
People tend to think that memories are like filing cabinets, where you store things you saw or experienced and can retrieve them intact at a later date. That is not true. Memories can change a little every time you access them. They are vulnerable to new information you receive.
That is why the police should carry out things such as identity parades and questioning in a very specific way – to avoid an eyewitness being influenced (intentionally or unintentionally) towards a certain outcome. Yet they don’t always do this.
If an eyewitness is willing to testify against you, you’ll need to learn about the options for challenging them.