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How reliable are eyewitnesses?

When a crime is committed in Ohio, or an accident happens and there are eyewitnesses, many people mistakenly believe that they are the best way to testify what happened during the situation. According to the National Center for State Courts, eyewitness testimony can be highly unreliable when it comes to criminal cases. With the help of social scientists, law enforcement officials may need to make changes before an eyewitness is completely reliable.

In previous cases, courts relied heavily on eyewitness testimony until DNA was introduced. Some convicted individuals were exonerated based on DNA evidence although eyewitness testimony was used to convict them. The reality is that the mind does not record an experience exactly like a video camera would. It is susceptible to biases and unconscious distortions through suggestion. Even the most confident witness can be challenged when it comes to remembering details.

The memory creates stories based on certain experiences that the individual has had, and one-way police are eliminating the bias is in how witnesses identify a persona in a lineup. Research has shown that even body language during a line-up can affect how the witness responds. Some states have adopted a practice in which neither the witness nor the officer knows who is going to be presented. This prevents false bias or stimuli toward a certain person.

Although eyewitnesses are often valuable when it comes to convicting or exonerating a person, their testimony alone can be problematic if there is no other reliable evidence. Physical evidence and DNA are also crucial to determining if a crime was committed and how it was committed, but anyone who has been charged with a crime should consider the validity of any eyewitness carefully.

This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be interpreted as legal advice.