Eyewitness’s Memories are Often Flawed
Many people claim that seeing is believing. In fact, more and more research over the past decade has shown that what someone witnesses in the heat of the moment, such as a crime taking place, is often remembered incorrectly. An eyewitness who claims that the shooter was six-foot three, 200 pounds, caucasian, and 30 years old, may have come up with that description in their head after the fact. They may have only been looking at the gun. According to Kent State University of Ohio psychologist Maria Zaragoza, when a weapon is present, people focus on the weapon, not a person’s face or what they looked like, as reported by LiveScience. “The information getting into the memory system is very limited,” according to Zaragoza.
The Power of Suggestive Questioning
A witness’s or victim’s memory of an event or person can further be altered or distorted depending on the questioning that the police or other law enforcement agent performs afterward. Introducing a witness or a victim to a police sketch of the perpetrator, or even having the perpetrator’s description provided to them, may deform their memory even further. According to Zaragoza, “The next source of memory uncertainty happens during the investigation. Suggestive questioning can distort memories. Each time you relive the crime, either out loud to an investigator or in your own head, that distorted memory is strengthened.”
Reconstructing a Memory Leads to Inaccuracies and Wrongful Convictions
As reported by Scientific America, many people assume that a person’s memory is like a recording device, when in fact, it is “More akin to putting puzzle pieces together than retrieving a video recording,” according to Irvine Elizabeth F. Loftus a psychologist at the University of California. A lawyer questioning a witness can distort their memory, either accidentally or intentionally, as this new false information from the attorney is let into the person’s mind to fill the missing gaps or puzzle pieces.
Jurors are Unaware of the Inherent Inaccuracies of Eyewitnesses
If there is so much science backing the flaws in witnesses’ and victims’ memories, especially in times of “fight or flight,” are jurors not prepared and able to distinguish between the accurate and inaccurate eyewitness statements? In a study published in Law and Human Behavior, researchers “investigated whether people's ‘common knowledge’ is sufficient to enable them to accurately assess the validity of evidence based upon an eyewitness report.” In other words, can a jury determine whether an eyewitness report is valid or not? The answer: no. The study revealed that the study group was overall unaware of the unreliability when it comes to eyewitness evidence.
Contact an Experienced Illinois Attorney Today
If you have been charged with a crime of any kind, do not hesitate to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney with knowledge about how an eyewitness's memory can work against the truth and wrongfully convict you of a crime you did not commit. Contact passionate Naperville criminal defense attorneys at Law Office of Glenn M. Sowa, LLC today for immediate assistance.