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Is eyewitness testimony reliable?

Testimony from eyewitnesses has long provided valuable evidence and powerful courtroom moments. If you are facing criminal charges in Colorado and have been informed of a potential witness, you may think your conviction is all but handed down. However, eyewitness accounts are not always accurate. 

According to an article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, eyewitness misidentifications may result from visual perception or memory failures. Visual perception failures result when people see things inaccurately. Memory failures, on the other hand, involve a loss of precision or accuracy in storing, maintaining and recalling what people saw. 

Numerous factors, including glare, shadows, refractive error, scattering of light in the eye, and even loud sounds or distracting signs, may affect people’s visual experiences. Due to these types of noise, witnesses may have some ambiguity regarding what they are looking at. In such cases, people’s biases, such as previous experiences or beliefs or expectations, may fill in these uncertainties, creating inaccuracies in people’s memories. For example, despite only getting a brief look, a witness may perceive that a robber had a gun based on the prior knowledge that many robbers carry weapons. 

The human mind does not store memories like pictures in an album. Rather, people encode information with their own prejudices; reconstructing, updating and distorting memories based on what they believe to be true as they forget or lose focus of the details. This allows people’s recollection of events to be biased by information from a range of sources, including family, friends, legal counsel and law enforcement.  

This post’s information is meant for general purposes only and should in no way be taken as legal advice.