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The problem with eyewitness testimonies in Texas

On Behalf of | Nov 29, 2023 | Criminal Defense |

The Texas justice system strives to ensure the just and equitable handling of all cases within its jurisdiction. They employ almost every resource in their arsenal to achieve this, and it is a good thing. But one area that has brought the integrity of their system into question is the use of eyewitness testimony.

Understanding eyewitness testimony

Eyewitness testimony is a form of evidence where a person who witnessed a crime or event testifies about what they saw. Usually, the criminal law court will call upon the eyewitness to give a firsthand account of what happened during the hearing after several interviews by the police and attorneys from both sides. If what they say is in line with the prosecution’s case, they can use it as evidence against the accused.

The reliability of eyewitness testimony

Eyewitness testimonies are often flawed, so much so that in 2017, Texas passed legislation to reform the process of identification of suspects by eyewitnesses. The Innocence Project, a nonprofit organization that works on overturning convictions with DNA evidence, reports that about 70% of cases overturned based on DNA evidence had eyewitness testimonies used to convict the innocent person initially.

There are so many reasons for this occurrence. The first is memory reliability. Factors, such as stress, time, cross-racial identification and use of weapons, can affect how well a person remembers an event. This compounds the second reason, human perception and interpretation, and these are not always accurate. Our brains can fill in missing details or distort memories based on our beliefs or expectations.

There are also cases where law enforcement might use suggestive tactics during the identification process, like showing the eyewitness only one suspect’s photo, leading them to believe that person is guilty. Additionally, jurors tend to give more weight to eyewitness testimony than other types of evidence, even though studies have shown it can be less reliable.

There’s no denying that sometimes eyewitness testimonies can help solve a case. However, given the potential for error and influence, it’s crucial to be critical of eyewitness testimonies in the courtroom. Remember, you can always challenge the reliability of eyewitness testimony with evidence and expert testimony.