Eyewitness testimony is a frequently used form of evidence in the United States, though experts question the usefulness of these. For the present, the New Jersey justice system has tried to modify the standards around eyewitness testimony to reduce questions on its accuracy and validity.
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As evidence, eyewitness testimony can be incredibly convincing. It’s used to establish the facts of the case in a criminal investigation. Either the defense or the prosecution can use eyewitness testimony to make up for deficiencies in the physical evidence gathered. Human beings are natural storytellers and we tend to find a face telling a cohesive story very convincing, so it can often be successful.
Over the years, New Jersey has adjusted its eyewitness testimony standards. For instance, now judges are instructed to give juries guidelines and to explain how stress levels, distance, and bad lighting can all interfere with an eyewitness’s ability to correctly perceive and interpret scenes before them. In cross-racial investigations, juries are instructed on questions of implicit bias and how that affects people’s ability to identify members of a different race.
Similarly, police officers also have regulations on how to record eyewitness testimony, both audio and video. If that’s not possible, then they are required to make a contemporaneous account. And if even that is not possible, then the administrator of the identification procedure has to give a detailed description of the steps taken and an explanation as to why an electronic record was not possible.
Eyewitness testimony relies heavily on someone’s memory, which introduces questions about its reliability because human memory is far from a perfect recording of what transpires. Biases we all carry can also cause us to misperceive what is in front of us. There are times when the human brain will even rearrange information, particularly in the presence of powerful stressors in dangerous situations. These are the types of events, like natural disasters or violent incidents, that people struggle to understand even when calm.
If you have any further questions, or you’ve been charged with a crime and need a competent criminal defense lawyer in your corner who can effectively defend you, look no further than The Law Office of Kevin T. Conway. Contact us today.