An eyewitness who seems like they’re not confident is going to raise questions in the jury’s mind. Do they really remember what they say they remember? Are they trustworthy? Is the information they’re providing reliable?
Meanwhile, an eyewitness who seems confident tends to inspire that confidence in others. When they’re sure of what they saw and able to give their account with conviction, the jury may take everything they say as a statement of fact.
But is it? Unfortunately, researchers have found that eyewitnesses are often wrong, even when they are confident. The way that they relate the information does not mean it should be trusted.
Sometimes, this happens because memories can change with time. A witness may have seen an event and then watched reports about it online. They may then “remember” details from the reports, making the mistake of assuming that they saw those things for themselves. In reality, they saw no such thing, but it becomes difficult to sort the details out and memories can change every time they are recalled.
It’s hard to convince someone that what they remember is inaccurate. They trust those memories. The memories feel very real and reliable. That’s why they can sound so confident, even when they are giving an account that is inaccurate and may later be overturned by DNA evidence. The witness isn’t being malicious or lying. They’re simply wrong without knowing it.
This is very important in criminal cases, when a conviction may hinge on these inaccurate accounts. Those who are facing serious criminal charges need to know about all of the legal options that they have to mount a solid defense.