Even if you don’t know much about the reliability of eyewitness accounts, you’re probably at least familiar with the pivotal role they can play in a criminal investigation. Whether someone is on the witness stand in court or selecting a suspect from a criminal lineup, a witness’s memory is a tool often used by police and prosecutors to build criminal cases. But the sad part is, that doesn’t necessarily mean that eyewitnesses always get it right.
Eyewitness accounts do not have a spotless record and have led to innocent people being incarcerated. This is a sobering reminder that banking on your innocence during the course of a criminal investigation is not necessarily the surest way to see justice. Thankfully, though, skilled legal representation is available if you find yourself facing a criminal charge.
How bias can affect criminal investigations
You’re undoubtedly aware that memory can be hazy at times. Still, criminal investigations often rely on the memories of eyewitnesses. But, as numerous studies have pointed out, when information surrounding an event gets fuzzy, bias can take center stage. In other words, a witness’s past experiences, which may be unrelated to the facts of a criminal case, can affect how that person remembers things, and how that person remembers things may not be accurate.
Additionally, certain tactics used by law enforcement can make a witness feel pressured to select a particular suspect. One such example, provided by the Innocence Project, involved a lineup of potential suspects who, except for one of them, looked little to nothing like the described physicality of the suspect. That means the composition of the lineup itself can cause a potential suspect to stand out to the witness, even if the potential suspect only loosely resembles the described physicality.
Eyewitness identifications are just one tool used by law enforcement to build criminal cases. Other tactics include search and seizure, forensic analysis of evidence, and police interrogation of suspects. In all of these matters, anyone suspected of a crime should have an experienced criminal defense attorney on their side to defend their rights and scrutinize the actions of police and prosecutors.