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The unreliability of eyewitness testimony

On Behalf of | Sep 11, 2023 | Criminal Defense |

Eyewitness testimony comes into play in many Georgia criminal investigations and trials. Many believe it is a reliable source of evidence that is capable of helping solve crimes and bring perpetrators to justice. However, a growing body of research suggests that eyewitness testimony is not as dependable as many people believe.

Several issues contribute to the unreliability of eyewitness testimony.

Memory distortion

Human memory is far from infallible. Stress, anxiety and even the passage of time all have the potential to impact the accuracy of a witness’s recollection of events. When witnesses are also facing the intense emotions of a crime scene or questions from law enforcement that come long after the event took place, their memories may become even less accurate. This may cause some witnesses to fabricate details or omit key information.


Eyewitnesses may participate in suggestive interviews during the investigative process. Law enforcement officers may unintentionally bias witnesses by phrasing questions in a way that implies certain answers. Witnesses, eager to cooperate, may then provide information they believe investigators want to hear, rather than what they actually recall.

Cross-racial identifications

Research shows that people tend to have more difficulty identifying individuals of a different race than their own. This phenomenon, known as the “cross-racial effect,” may contribute to misidentifications, as witnesses may struggle to distinguish between individuals who belong to a racial or ethnic group other than their own.

In a study of almost 350 convictions overturned in America, eyewitness misidentifications contributed to 70% of them.