In Texas, the criminal justice system relies heavily on eyewitness testimony, although it is not always reliable. Several factors can lead witnesses to have flawed recall, which could lead to a wrongful conviction. Flawed eyewitness testimony can also cause a failure to identify the perpetrator of a crime. The following points cover some contributors that can lead to flawed eyewitness testimony.
Distorted or influenced memories
The human memory is more fragile than people would like to believe, and studies have shown that observances fade and distort over time. This natural degradation of memories can make it challenging to recall events, causing witnesses to give inaccurate or flawed testimony.
A witness may unknowingly alter their recollection of an event because of exposure to certain types of communication. Suggestive language, biased interviews and leading questions can affect how a witness remembers an event. Exposure to discussions about a criminal case or media coverage can contaminate a witness’s memory and affect the accuracy of the testimony.
In high-stress situations where a crime occurs, a witness may have difficulty remembering details accurately. Anxiety and other emotions can impair the ability to perceive and remember. If a weapon was involved, an eyewitness may have focused on it while at the scene and neglected to note other critical details of the incident accurately. Due to their perceptions or exposure to specific weapons, eyewitnesses may also misidentify the weapon they saw used in a crime.
Bias in lineups
When law enforcement conducts lineups, the methods they use can influence a witness and cause them to make an incorrect choice. Some witnesses will choose an individual even when law enforcement does not include the actual perpetrator in the lineup. Feedback from law enforcement and other individuals can influence witnesses, which causes them to become more confident that their inaccurate memories are correct.
Racial bias also exists, and witnesses have difficulty identifying potential perpetrators of a different race. This phenomenon can potentially lead to misidentifications.
Eyewitness testimony is not without flaws, but still serves as a valuable tool in criminal justice. Understanding the potential for bias and error is essential to ensuring that criminal courts serve justice.