Eyewitnesses have played a vital role in prosecuting many criminals. Yet, they have also helped condemn many innocent people to lengthy sentences.
You are right to be concerned if the prosecution tells you they intend to call on an eyewitness. Yet, you should not give up hope. Thanks to considerable research, most judges are now aware that an eyewitness is not always reliable.
Eyewitness confidence does not correlate with accuracy
If an eyewitness gets it wrong, it is usually unintentional. They honestly believe that what they are saying is true. Most people do not realize that memory can change.
Our memories are a set of stories, and like any story, they can vary with retelling. If we tell ourselves a specific story often enough, we may come to believe it is true.
Therefore, when an eyewitness says they remember something, they are correct. That is indeed the memory they have. Yet, they might be remembering something that never occurred other than in their head.
People do not always see as well as they think
An eyewitness may say, “I saw it with my own eyes.” Yet, think about all the other things people have seen with their eyes. Illusionists such as Penn and Teller make a living by convincing people that they have seen something that never actually happened. Pickpockets make a living, ensuring people do not see things happening right under their noses.
There are many ways to challenge an eyewitness. For example, was the lighting good? How near were they? Did they have a clear line of sight, and were they wearing their glasses at the time? Understanding more about how to cast doubt on eyewitness reliability could be crucial to defending against criminal charges.