How valid are eye-witness testimonies?

On Behalf of | Sep 14, 2022 | Criminal Defense

Eyewitness testimony is a common source of evidence for either side in a criminal case.

However, experts continue to question their validity, and New Jersey’s criminal justice system continues to make changes to improve the use of eyewitness testimonies.

Role of eyewitness testimony

Eyewitness testimony is a form of evidence used to establish facts in a criminal investigation. These testimonies can be heavily influential for the jury despite studies suggesting they are sometimes significantly unreliable. Either side may use these testimonies to accommodate for missing physical evidence, and they are often successful.

Eyewitness identification standards in New Jersey

New Jersey recently passed new legislation to regulate how the criminal litigation process treats eyewitness evidence. Previous New Jersey identification standards allowed the jury to determine an eyewitness’s reliability, which made it difficult to weed out eyewitnesses giving incorrect testimonies when they appeared believable.

Today, the court considers the potential for police influence in identifying a witness and other variables that could affect the witness’s testimony, such as their stress level or potential biases.

Reliability of eyewitness testimony

Because eyewitness testimony relies so heavily on memory, you can easily question reliability. Human memory is not a perfect recording of events. Sometimes the brain will even rearrange data to fill in gaps in the memory and make more sense of what happened.

Despite arguments against eyewitness testimony, it can be an important element in a case. The court goes to great lengths to limit the influence of investigators, including making the identification process as reliable as possible.