Law Offices of Jess C. Bedore III - Certified Specialist in Criminal Law
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Eyewitness accounts aren't always perfect

Imagine that a person commits a crime. It may be violent in nature, or it might not be -- that specific detail doesn't matter in this case. When the crime is committed, there is an eyewitness to the entire ordeal, but no video cameras capture the incident. The police arrest the individual for the crime, and the case is brought against him.

As part of the prosecution's case, they use the eyewitness to tell his or her story about the crime. The eyewitness describes what he or she saw, recalling details and the build-up to the crime. The jury is moved by the eyewitness's testimony, and they render their verdict against the defendant.

This may seem like the way a criminal case is "supposed" to go, and you may not think that there's anything wrong with the hypothetical situation we just presented above. But there actually is: eyewitness accounts aren't always correct. A new report recently elaborated on this already well-known element of criminal law.

Human memory and visual perception is far from perfect. In the context of a crime, the memory and visual information of a witness could be strained or warped by the stress of the moment or any biases that person may or may not have. In other words, they may imagine a tiny detail involved in the crime that didn't actually happen -- though they aren't necessarily doing this with malicious or purposeful intent.

It's just a reminder about the many complications and factors that are involved in criminal cases.

Source: National Academies, "Report Urges Caution in Handling and Relying Upon Eyewitness Identifications in Criminal Cases, Recommends Best Practices for Law Enforcement and Courts," Oct. 2, 2014

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