Facing charges for a violent crime, such as murder, kidnapping or sexual assault, means your future is on hold. In fact, New Jersey penalties for such crimes can include decades in prison or even spending the rest of your life behind bars. Life as you know it may hinge on the decision of a jury, and the evidence presented in court can greatly influence that decision.
Among the evidence the prosecutor will present against you may be eyewitness testimony. Eyewitnesses tell the court what they saw in relation to a crime and may even identify the person they think committed the crime. Unfortunately, many innocent people go to prison because of the inaccurate testimony of an eyewitness.
How memories become contaminated
Eyewitness testimony is compelling to jurors. In some cases, an eyewitness can sway the course of a trial. If scant physical evidence exists in your case, prosecutors may rely heavily on witness accounts. Unfortunately, the human memory does not work the way a recording or video does. You may find yourself facing false accusations because so many factors can contaminate a witness’ memory of an event or face, for example:
- Too much time passes between the crime and the witness testimony.
- The witness must retell the story numerous times.
- News and media coverage may infiltrate the memories of the witness.
- Police ask leading questions that sway the opinion of the witness.
- Hearing the testimony of other witnesses causes a witness to doubt what he or she saw.
- Poor eyesight, darkness or events happening quickly can prevent a witness from developing a clear and accurate understanding of the events.
- Witnesses feel compelled to fill in the blanks when they do not know the answers to police questions.
Many studies prove that people do not easily differentiate individuals who are not of their race. If eyewitnesses in your case are not the same race as you, you may be the victim of misidentification. Additionally, witnesses’ own racial prejudices can affect how they perceive a crime and the people they identify as having committed the crime. For example, one study shows that eyewitnesses tend to associate people with very dark skin with more serious crimes.
Your future is on the line. If an eyewitness has placed you at the scene of a violent crime, you cannot afford to take the situation lightly. Seeking the most aggressive and committed legal representation possible is in your best interests.