Eyewitnesses play an essential role in criminal proceedings. In many cases, they can mean the difference between conviction and acquittal. In countless instances, they provide a birds-eye view in the form of compelling recollections and evidence.
However, the way the human mind works, recollections can be prone to errors and omissions. Criminal cases involve multiple lengthy processes. As time passes, memories change, if not reconfigure, with specific details fading and colored by personal beliefs.
Memories and how they are reconstructed are, at best, fragile. Yet, police officers, prosecutors, and courts throughout the nation rely or over-rely on eyewitness identification and testimony to prosecute suspected criminals.
Time may be of the essence
The sooner a witness can tell their story, the more accurate information they can provide, the better. Countless studies reveal that perceptions change and reconfigure to a level where the event morphs into specific elements that are exaggerated or completely forgotten. Specifically, in cases that involve weapons allegedly used for violent acts, they can change from various types of guns, with some even falsely remembering icepicks.
In spite of the countless research on potentially faulty witness recollections, the reasons behind the shifts in past perceptions remain a mystery. When it comes to weapons that, in the minds of those who saw the alleged criminal act, the gun used in the suspected crime usually grows in size and power.
Despite the countless errors, omissions, and wrongful convictions that occur, witness testimony is often the best and only evidence available to prosecutors and defense attorneys. Criminal cases have inherently lengthy processes that prosecutors can exploit, sometimes resulting in wrongful convictions.