- Published: November 7, 2012
As we process all the information coming from the world surrounding us, we rely very much on visual information. As the saying goes, "seeing is believing" for a lot of us. We believe what we saw; we believe what we remember seeing. And we have an equal faith in other people's ability to process and remember visual information. Naturally, eyewitness testimony has been considered to be one of the strongest piece of evidence that can be given in a courtroom. "I saw the crime scene, and it was definitely that person who did it!" What could possibly be more decisive than that?
It's been shown again and again, however, that eyewitness testimony is not the best way to identify the criminal. Recently, a man was exonerated after spending two years in prison for a crime which he didn't commit. Both the victim and the witness of the robbery identified this man as the criminal, and this eyewitness testimony was the only real evidence connecting him to the crime. Based on this evidence, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison. He had to spend two precious years in prison until the true attacker confessed. What is shocking is that this kind of mistaken eyewitness testimony happens quite often. In fact, according to a study published in 2006, eyewitness error occurred in at least 75 percent of the first 180 DNA exoneration cases.
If the jurors keep their blind faith in the visual memory of the eyewitness, mistaken testimony will continue sending innocent people to prison. There should be improvements in the usage fo eyewitness testimony in the courtroom in order to prevent sending innocent people to prison, do the victim real justice and keep the true criminal off the street.
Gary L. Wells et al., Eyewitness Evidence, Improving Its Probative Value, 7 PSYCHOL. SCI. PUB. INT. 45, 48 (2006);