Eyewitness Testimony: Can You Really Trust Your Own Eyes? (Part 1)

Is eyewitness testimony reliable in a trial? Nope, it really isn’t and it probably never was!


“Tell the Court, did you see a man running away from the victim’s home at four am on the morning of the murder?”

“I did, yes. He was running quickly, like he wanted to get away. And he had a gun in his hand… his right hand.”

“Can you tell the Court, is that man here in this court room today?”

“Yes he is. It’s that man over there! The defendant. He did it! I saw it with my own eyes!


You’ve probably heard some version of this dialogue a thousand times over the years, whether in movies, TV shows, or novels. A person’s freedom sometimes hinges entirely on the eyewitness testimony of a single person who claims they saw someone do something. They always seem so certain. So utterly without doubt. After all, they are convinced. They saw it with their own eyes, and eyes don’t lie, right? Wrong.


Eyes, as it turns out, are notorious liars, and people are frequently mistaken, believing they saw one thing when in fact they saw something completely different. Although in truth, it isn’t the eyes that lie, it’s the mind. The human brain is a phenomenally complex organ, capable of incredible creativity and astounding ingenuity. However, as we’re quickly coming to realize, it’s also capable of deceiving itself with very little prompting.


In recent years, unreliable eyewitness testimony has been the reason for a surprising number of overturned convictions. Just like the introduction of DNA analysis, the increasing understanding that eyewitness testimony isn’t foolproof has resulted in several people being freed from prison, sometimes after decades behind bars. In most of those cases, the defendant had been convicted on no more than the word of a single person. Additionally, many of those eyewitnesses were paid a significant amount for their testimony.


Eyewitness testimony used to be considered irrefutable. That’s no longer the case.


There was a time when bringing in experts to refute eyewitness testimony during a trial was frowned on. However, a recent ruling in the Illinois Supreme Court has opened the door for more experts to be called on to explain to juries in that state why they shouldn’t accept an eyewitness’ testimony at face value. The result has empowered criminal defense attorneys practicing law in Illinois to use these experts in bolstering their defenses of clients. While this may seem irrelevant, because Illinois law has no effect on Michigan law, these types of rulings often empower others in different states to pursue change. Michigan is no different.


Chuck Kronzek, a criminal defense attorney Michigan’s Kronzek Firm says that, “No judge or lawyer with trial experience believes that eyewitness testimony is completely reliable. We commonly get very different versions of the same event that is witnessed by multiple people. Descriptions of people, vehicles and incidents are inconsistent in court more than they are consistent.


The question now is, why is eyewitness testimony so unreliable? Why do people’s eyes deceive them and their minds play tricks on them? The answer about the unreliability of eyewitness testimony is a complex one, but it has to do with memory. Join us next time as we examine what makes the use of eyewitness testimony in criminal trials such a controversial topic, and why it can have such disastrous results.


Until then, if you have been accused of a crime in Michigan, whether it has to do with weapons, drugs, theft, assault, fraud or sex crimes, we can help you. The experienced defense attorneys at The Kronzek Firm have spent decades successfully defending clients in Michigan against false accusations and criminal charges. If you or a loved one have been accused of a crime in Michigan, call us today at 866 766 5245 to receive top notch help from a highly skilled legal team.

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