Eyewitness testimony is something of a paradox in the legal system. While it often inspires the trust of the jury, the reality is that it is often wrong. Many people who wind up behind bars when they never broke the law are only there because an eyewitness picked them out of a lineup or otherwise identified them. In some cases, DNA evidence later clears them of the charges, but this does not happen for everyone.
What can we do to reduce the number of wrongful convictions based on inaccurate witness statements? According to some legal experts, we need to consider how confident people appear when they first make an identification in a case.
While the degree that this confidence exposes the truth is debated, the underlying idea is that someone who needs to think carefully about the identification is someone who may get it wrong. A witness who knows who the guilty party is will recognize them instantly.
The problem with looking at confidence, though, is that not everyone sees it. There is a famous case, for instance, where a young woman appeared very confident and calm in court when identifying a man whom she claimed attacked her. However, behind the scenes, she only said she “thought” he was the right person after looking at half a dozen pictures for roughly five minutes. Anyone who saw that process wouldn’t think she was confident at all. In fact, DNA later showed that she got it wrong.
If you’re worried about going to jail for a crime you didn’t commit, it is important to know all of the defense options you have.