Eyewitness testimonies were more widely used in New York before the method’s fatal flaws became more apparent. The biases and limited perspective of any eyewitness combined with a broken system create a recipe for wrongful convictions. On top of it all, there’s no way to tell if the eyewitness even has any intentions of being honest. The following are why eyewitness testimonies have a bad reputation.
One of the major issues with eyewitness testimonies in criminal defense is memory contamination. It doesn’t take much to accidentally plant details or ideas in the mind of a witness. If an investigator isn’t extremely careful, they might reveal too much about the case and influence their decision. Stress also plays a huge role in how a witness responds to questioning.
The way that an investigator chooses to phrase things may sway the answers that eyewitnesses provide. An investigator’s inflection may come into play, and even body language can reveal more than intended. There are layers of biases that can influence the thought process of the witness, and this is to the detriment of the accuracy of any testimony that is given.
Eyewitness testimonies are more questionable if the witness has bad vision. Even if they were wearing their glasses, there are different types of vision impairment, like bad night vision, that may cause the witness not to see things clearly. The condition of the glasses must also be considered along with whether the witness was tired. If the witness was using contact lenses, consideration must be given to whether they were dried out or in good condition.
The cross-race effect
There are also racial factors that inevitably come into play. Whether the witness realizes their racial biases or not, it’s bound to play some role in their decision-making process.
The cross-race effect is one common example. Various research has been consistent in its indications that individuals of one race aren’t very good at identifying people from other ethnic or racial groups.
With eyewitness testimonies, suspects are faced with a flawed system that is unfairly weighed against them. Their innocence hinges on a single witness and what that one person thinks they saw.