If facing criminal charges and you learned the authorities have an eyewitness, your heart likely sank. Judges and juries have long placed significant weight on the testimony of people who witnessed alleged crimes. However, many factors may affect the reliability of eyewitness testimony.
Understanding the factors that affect witness statements may help you build your defense and safeguard your future.
According to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, system variables include factors affecting eyewitness testimony that the authorities and criminal justice system may control. For example, this may include the way law enforcement officers conduct lineups or how they give directions. By following the appropriate protocols and procedures, the authorities may eliminate system variables and their potential contamination of eyewitness testimony.
Estimator variables include those factors that may affect witness statements that the authorities cannot control. These factors may include viewing conditions and distracting stimuli. For instance, a witness may not have a clear view of the perpetrator of an offense if the alleged crime occurred in a dimly lit area or if the witness was a substantial distance away at the time that they saw the events. Likewise, witnesses may get distracted by things like the presence of a firearm. As a result, they may not get a good look at a suspect who was close up at the time of the alleged crime.
To resolve ambiguities in what they perceive, people may rely on predispositions or prior experiences. Consequently, personal biases or prejudices may impact their perceptions or memories of events. This often takes place unconsciously, and people may have no idea that they have misremembered or misperceived an event.
As part of your defense, your legal representative may consider a range of factors, including the reliability of any eyewitnesses in your case.