27 Nov 23

Long Island Criminal Defense: How Lawyers Challenge Eyewitness Testimony

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Last Updated on: 6th December 2023, 11:06 pm

Long Island Criminal Defense: How Lawyers Challenge Eyewitness Testimony

Eyewitness testimony can seem damning in a criminal trial – after all, if someone swears they saw the defendant commit the crime, that seems like strong evidence of guilt. However, research shows eyewitness testimony is frequently unreliable. In fact, it is one of the leading causes of wrongful convictions in the U.S. So how do criminal defense lawyers on Long Island and elsewhere challenge this kind of questionable evidence?

Types of Eyewitness Testimony

There are a few main categories of eyewitness testimony that commonly come up in criminal trials:

  • Eyewitness Identification – This is when a witness claims to recognize the perpetrator of a crime. Often, the ID comes from a lineup conducted by police. Problems can occur if the lineup was biased or suggestive.
  • Eyewitness Recollection – This covers a witnesses’ memory of events related to a crime. Human memory is imperfect – we forget details over time, or even add details that weren’t originally there. So eyewitness recollections can easily be inaccurate.
  • Eyewitness Narratives – This refers to a witnesses’ overall story or timeline of events. If different witnesses give contradictory accounts, it suggests some or all of them may be unreliable.

Why Eyewitness Testimony Goes Wrong

There are many reasons why eyewitnesses can get it wrong. Here are some of the big ones:

  • Stress – Witnessing a crime is a traumatic, adrenaline-filled experience. The stress impairs memory formation and recall.
  • Weapon Focus – A witness focused on a weapon may not notice other critical details.
  • Leading Questions – Police can accidentally shape witness memories by asking leading questions.
  • Misattribution – Witnesses can mix up the perpetrator with another person seen around the same time.
  • Unconscious Transference – A witness may ID the defendant because they saw them innocent in another situation.
  • Time Delay – Memory fades rapidly. An ID made weeks or months after the fact is highly questionable.
  • Witness Confidence ≠ Accuracy – Many studies show no correlation between how certain a witness is and how accurate they are.
  • Cross-Racial Bias – Witnesses are better at ID’ing perpetrators of their own race. Cross-racial IDs are less reliable.

How Lawyers Challenge Eyewitness Evidence

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