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4 Reasons why eye-witnesses aren't reliable

Since the development of sophisticated DNA testing, we’ve discovered that cases from the past that relied heavily on eye-witness accounts often lead to wrongful convictions. In fact, incorrect eyewitness identifications were involved in 70 percent of over 350 false convictions in the US.

These witnesses had no reason to intentionally lie about what they saw. They just didn’t see what they thought they saw.

1. Misconceptions about memory

One thing researchers have noted is that most people hold the misconception that memories are detailed records of what happened. However, studies have shown that people actually rebuild the scene of their experiences, subconsciously filling in the holes each time.

For example, if you slip and fall, you may not realize what is happening until you’re on the floor. Thinking back on it, you’ll rationalize that you were falling and use clues to guess how it might have happened. However, since you didn’t completely understand what was happening in the moment, you could make mistakes about what you remember.

2. Sight limitations

If you’ve ever needed glasses, you know that it can be difficult to recognize your own poor vision until you see how it can be improved. Distance, low lighting and how fast things happen are all factors that can distort our vision.

If you’ve ever imagined monsters in the dark or had to do a double take in clear daylight, you know that sometimes we may think we see something that is actually something else.

3. Subconscious bias

Different people may subconsciously come to conclusions about what they’ve seen based on preconceived notions of what they think is likely to happen. For example, I bet you this read wrong. If you read the previous sentence incorrectly, it’s because of how your brain expects language to work.

4. Picking and choosing details

Even though we may be able to see what’s around us, sometimes we only focus on certain details. Think about it like this. Your brain ignores the sight of your nose all day, filling in the space so that you don’t notice it’s there.

If you could perfectly draw out what you see in front of you, you probably wouldn’t include your nose blocking the view. The drawing you create would only be of what you subconsciously chose to see and would not be entirely accurate.

Similarly, when people see someone carrying a gun, they’re more likely to look at the gun than the face of the person holding it.

A solid defense won’t overlook details

If you’re facing criminal charges, an eye-witness account isn’t concrete evidence against you. A skilled criminal defense attorney can help build your case by accounting for potential inaccuracies that most people overlook such as these.

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4 Reasons why eye-witnesses aren't reliable | The Law Office of Gregory N. Smith