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Are eyewitnesses always right?

On Behalf of | Sep 12, 2023 | Criminal Defense

When a crime is committed, the police may take reports from eyewitnesses. An eyewitness is someone who may have been present during a crime and can recall events that transpired before, during and after the crime.

It’s often believed that eyewitnesses provide unbiased, highly detailed retellings of events, which can greatly determine the outcome of legal cases. However, eyewitnesses may not be as accurate as people typically believe and the issue lies with how the brain processes memories. Here’s what you should know:

Studies have shown the brain is malleable

People have been studying how the brain works for many years. Even today, the brain still hides many secrets. But, studies have shown that memories aren’t as reliable as many people think.

Many people think that memories work like videos and all anyone has to do is press rewind to give an accurate retelling of the memory. But, memory works much like a series of pictures and the gaps are filled in later. In other words, the brain does not store every tiny detail of memories. 

When people recall events, not every detail is remembered. The more the story is told, the less detailed it may become for the purposes of storytelling. And, there are times when people change their stories depending on who they’re talking to, further altering the original memory.

How does that affect criminal cases? When witnesses are asked what they saw, there are some factors that can alter their memories. For example, questions can lead witnesses to remember events differently than previously believed, making it easier to prosecute a defendant. Or, someone’s personal biases could villainize a defendant. 

The outcome of a criminal case could hang on an eyewitness testimony. People may need to reach out for legal help to understand how they create a strong defense.