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Why eyewitness testimony is often inaccurate

On Behalf of | Jun 18, 2021 | Violent Crimes

When Illinois residents face criminal charges and wind up in court, their cases may involve the testimony of eyewitnesses who say they saw them committing some type of crime. However, contrary to popular belief, eyewitness testimony is not particularly reliable. Instead, mistaken identifications are the leading factor leading to wrongful convictions in America. This raises questions about why Americans place so much stock in eyewitness testimony.

Per the Innocence Project, eyewitness identifications are among the most convincing types of evidence used in criminal cases. Eyewitness accounts often sway a judge or jury to make particular decisions about a case.

Problems associated with eyewitness accounts

There are several factors that together influence and affect the accuracy of eyewitness testimony. Sometimes, law enforcement officials or others provide unintentional clues to a suspect’s identity while conducting a lineup. Eyewitnesses may also make misidentifications because they assume that the perpetrator of a particular crime is going to appear in front of them during a lineup. The fact that human memories are malleable and prone to distortion also impacts the accuracy of eyewitness testimony.

Improving the accuracy of eyewitness accounts

Some states have adopted reforms and policies recommended by the Innocence Project to enhance the accuracy of eyewitness accounts. To date, Illinois is not among them. Some states are working to make eyewitness accounts more reliable by electronically recording all lineups. Some are also warning witnesses that the suspect may or may not be present in the lineup and are having witnesses issue statements about how confident they are in their identifications.

Despite a growing body of evidence indicating that eyewitness accounts are often inaccurate, they remain among the most common forms of evidence used in criminal court proceedings.