The reliability of eyewitnesses

When a crime is committed in Minnesota, law enforcement officials often seek out eyewitnesses. Historically, both the police detectives and prosecutors have been inclined to base their cases on eyewitness testimony. In recent years, however, many criminal justice and legal experts have come to question the value of some so-called eyewitness accounts.

Questions about the validity of eyewitness testimony have emerged in response to cases in which DNA evidence has exonerated the accused. It turns out that cognitive biases can compromise the memories of witnesses, causing them to select the wrong person out of a live or photographic lineup.

One example of this is how an eyewitness will pick an individual out of a set of photographs as the probable criminal. When the witness is then presented with a live line-up, they are then more likely to pick out the person they selected from photographs. Unfortunately, this bias may result in the wrong person being charged with a crime.

The potential for misidentification, even by an eyewitness who is acting in good faith, is one reason why the accused generally needs competent legal counsel. Without a lawyer, an alleged offender is left to navigate a complicated legal system on their own. This can lead to a false conviction, something that will deprive the accused of their liberty while also allowing a criminal to go free.

If an individual has been accused of a crime, setting up a meeting with an experienced criminal defense lawyer can be a good first step. The attorney could review the client's case and act to exclude questionable evidence.

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