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When is eyewitness testimony unreliable?

On Behalf of | Aug 31, 2021 | Blog, Criminal Defense |

When a compelling eyewitness takes the stand, a jury may feel swayed to believe what the person says. Not all eyewitness testimony is credible, though. A defense attorney might point out several holes in the witness’s statements, and an Iowa jury might exceed reasonable doubt standards when deliberating. Ultimately, eyewitness testimony isn’t always perfect.

Problems with eyewitnesses

Successful criminal defense motions to have charges thrown out sometimes occur when it turns out an eyewitness outright lied. While such instances might not be as common in courtrooms as in entertainment dramatizations, perjury happens. A witness may lie to deflect suspension away from him or her, or the witness might hold a personal vendetta against the accused. Regardless, a judge would doubtfully allow blatantly false testimony to remain on the record.

Not all faulty eyewitness testimony involves perjury. Sometimes, a witness may believe he or she saw a specific person commit a particular crime. However, the person’s perceptions and memory could both be inaccurate.

Several factors may undermine what someone believes to have witnessed. Distance, poor visibility, and mistaken perceptions could lead to inaccurate testimony. And mistaken beliefs about what someone hears may lead to errors in memory and judgment.

Eyewitness mistakes and reasonable doubt

Criminal convictions depend on the jury arriving at guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. A defense attorney could raise reasonable doubts in several ways, including raising questions about an eyewitness’s credibility. Inconsistencies and a lack of clarity on the witness’s part might hurt his or her testimony.

No one can tell for sure how a jury will react to testimony and cross-examinations. That said, confusing, unclear, and imprecise testimony might create reasonable doubts.