Thanks to DNA evidence, we do know that wrongful convictions happen. Hundreds of people have been let out of jail after their convictions were overturned. These convictions were often made without DNA evidence, or before it was available, but evidence recovered after the fact can prove that the person was innocent all along.
One interesting thing that researchers have found is that the main reason for these false convictions is eyewitness testimony. Now, the eyewitness may not have had anything to do with the alleged crime that took place. They simply saw it happen and later made a statement to the police. They have no inherent bias or a reason to lie on purpose. Why is it that they would accidentally get something so important so wrong?
In some cases, people have personal biases that they may not even realize themselves. If an eyewitness is asked about whether they saw you at the scene of the crime, and you are from an ethnic group that they are biased against, for example, they may be more likely to think that they saw you there. If you’re not of the same ethnic group as the person making that accusation, they may also simply get confused and believe you are someone else. Biases also manifest along gender and socio-economic lines.
A chaotic situation
Furthermore, the crime that took place may have happened suddenly and without warning. Visibility may not have been good. Clearly, the eyewitness had no idea what was about to happen and wasn’t prepared to witness it as accurately as they could. When something so chaotic happens, mistakes are common, and they may be made innocently.
Finally, you just have to remember that memory does change with recall and can be altered over time. This is especially true when someone is repeatedly told a different version of events. They may start to believe that that is, in fact, what they saw. But it’s just that their memories of that time have been changed.
As you can see, if you’re facing charges and eyewitnesses are accusing you of doing something illegal, it’s important to understand exactly what legal defense options you have.