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Eyewitness Testimonies: Reliable Or not

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In the course of 1977, Randal Dale Adams or Mr. Adams was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of a police officer in Dallas County, Texas. An alleged eyewitness, who in fact was the actual killer, set up Mr. Adams and received immunity from prosecution in exchange for his testimony. It turned out that Mr. Adams was not involved in the crime at all. The facts came to light after filmmaker Errol Morris took an interest in the case and produced a now-famous documentary — The Thin Blue Line — about the case. Mr. Adams and the victim were white. Time lapsed from arrest to exoneration: 147 months. The actual killer, David Ray Harris, was just sixteen years old when he shot the victim, Patrolman Robert Wood during a traffic stop. Although it was mentioned that Mr. Adams and Patrolman Robert Wood were both white, no one can assume that this was done because of Ethnic hatred because David Ray Harris was also a white male. Nevertheless, this case could be a little odd since a police officer was killed by a sixteen-year-old young man who pretended to be the eyewitness testimony.

Eyewitness testimony is one of the factors that a judge considers when determining decisions in court cases, but it can be very unreliable especially if there is no evaluation. Forensic mental health assessment (FMHA) has grown into a specialization informed by research and professional guidelines. The 19 topical volumes address best approaches to practice for particular types of evaluation in the criminal, civil, and juvenile/family areas. There are a growing number of identified cases in which citizens have been convicted of serious crimes and later found to be innocent. In many such cases, eyewitness identification is the only evidence linking the defendant to the crime. Since there is a substantial body of literature on erroneous conviction, Innocence Project was created. The goal of the Innocence Project is to use DNA evidence to uncover erroneous convictions. This project and evaluating eyewitness testimonies firsthand before having them in court cases will account for them as more reliable forms of evidence.

Millions of people have been arrested or detained, but are not yet found guilty of a criminal offense by the jury’s judgment. The Federal Bureau of Investigation and many states are expanding their DNA databases to include these people. One of the reasons why a great number of people are being arrested or detained but are not yet convicted is the eyewitness testimony who claimed to be very confident identifying a suspect. Innocent people have been convicted of crimes that they did not commit. Conviction is the verdict that usually results when a court of law finds a defendant guilty of the crime. In April, The New York Times reported that the FBI began collecting DNA samples from individuals awaiting trial and from detained immigrants. Currently, 15 states collect DNA samples from individuals awaiting trial. Law enforcement officials say expanding DNA collections will help solve more violent crimes, as well as potentially exonerate more people who have been wrongfully convicted because it is more accurate than other forms of evidence. This goes to show that other ways can be used as forms of evidence in court cases. Nonetheless, if government officials start evaluating eyewitness testimonies, they can also be reliable forms of evidence.

The malleable nature of human memory and visual perception makes eyewitness testimony one of the most unreliable forms of evidence. The malleable nature of memory can convince a person that s/he saw something that was not actually present. Twenty-five percent of individuals can be easily induced to remember events that never happened. An eyewitness can be very confident that his/her memory is accurate which leads to misconceptions and defendants being wrongfully accused and convicted. Despite that, certain drugs enhance memory, and they may hold the key to preventing disorders as wide-ranging as Alzheimer’s disease and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Also, hormones that help engrave the narrative of our lives into our cells have now been identified. Eyewitness testimonies can’t be a hundred percent accurate at all times, but there will always be ways to improve their memories. Therefore, with enough assistance and supervision, eyewitness testimonies can still be reliable forms of evidence in court cases.

Nobody performs well under pressure. It is better to give the eyewitness testimonies more time to analyze certain events than ended up having a blurry description of an incident. Providing them enough time to examine the occurrences will result in more accurate details. More comprehension regarding this point is given by the National Center for Biotechnology Information:

In the eyewitness identification literature, stress and arousal at the time of encoding are considered to adversely influence identification performance. This assumption is in contrast with findings from the neurobiology field of learning and memory, showing that stress and stress hormones are critically involved in forming enduring memories. This discrepancy may be related to methodological differences between the two fields of research, such as the tendency for immediate testing or the use of very short (1–2 hours) retention intervals in eyewitness research, while neurobiology studies insert at least 24 hours (National Center for Biotechnology Information).

This information provides a better understanding of how stress and pressure affect the eyewitness testimonies’ identification of events. Eyewitness testimonies cannot carry out their reminiscences and thoughts properly when they are stressed and under pressure. Furthermore, the National Center for Biotechnology Information also mentioned the flaw of using very short retention intervals in eyewitness research that only takes about 1 to 2 hours, where it should take at least 24 hours. This demonstrates that occasionally, it is not the eyewitness testimony’s fault to be mistaken. Stress hormones in the human body also contribute to the factors that lead eyewitness testimonies to be ambiguous in giving details or descriptions.

Estimating the ability of an eyewitness before giving him/her the right to speak in a court proceeding will enhance the chance of getting better results. Court proceedings are something that should be taken seriously because the people there who have been accused of crimes or also called the defendants are fighting for their civil liberties. Eyewitness testimonies can be really convincing in courts, but being convincing is not the same as being accurate. A government official should be sensible enough to tell whether the eyewitness is telling the truth or not. Since most of the time the eyewitness testimony is not a hundred percent accurate, it is the responsibility of a government official to examine the ability of an eyewitness’s memory and visualization of events. Every person has this thing called selective attention or selective memory, that is why the eyewitness’s awareness should also be put to test. Selective memory is the person’s ability to remember certain information and not remember other information. In this case, an eyewitness testimony could remember some parts of the event, but not the whole thing which could lead to more confusion and inaccuracies. A general evaluation of the eyewitness testimony is a crucial thing to do because doing this will avoid any fallacy in future court decisions. Presenting an eyewitness in a court proceeding without doing any kind of evaluation can result in judicial misconduct.

The Sixth Amendment in the Bill of Rights is also associated with eyewitness testimony. The sixth amendment says that a defendant has the right to confront a witness against him/her in a criminal action, as well as the right to cross-examine the prosecution’s witnesses. A person accused of a crime cannot be put in jail without public trials. Eyewitness testimonies also participate in public trials, and in fact, they are important during court trials as they are forms of evidence for or against the defendant. Moreover, defendants cannot also be put in jail without due process of law which is fair treatment through the normal judicial system. All of these legal proceedings include eyewitness testimonies, that is why eyewitness testimonies are vital parts of determining whether a person accused of a crime is guilty or not. Eyewitness testimony plays an important role in court proceedings and because of that reason, it should be examined carefully.  

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Eyewitness Testimonies: Reliable Or Not. (2021, May 31). GradesFixer. Retrieved September 22, 2022, from
“Eyewitness Testimonies: Reliable Or Not.” GradesFixer, 31 May 2021,
Eyewitness Testimonies: Reliable Or Not. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 22 Sept. 2022].
Eyewitness Testimonies: Reliable Or Not [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2021 May 31 [cited 2022 Sept 22]. Available from:
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