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The unreliability of eye-witnesses on Colorado criminal cases

In 2009, a boy in Colorado set off a media frenzy when he reported to law enforcement that he had seen his brother climb into a weather balloon and that the weather balloon was floating away. After an extensive effort to find the balloon and rescue the young victim, it was discovered that the boy was not in the balloon at all. In fact, he was at home, safe and sound.

While it is unknown whether the brother really thought he saw the boy get into the balloon, it brings up an excellent point relating to the trustworthiness of eyewitness testimony in a court of law. It is not uncommon for an entire case to hinge on eyewitness testimony. Many times, people are convicted of a crime simply because someone testified in court that they saw that person at the scene of the crime.

Eye-witness testimony influenced by several factors

Many experts agree that the human eye can be deceived quite easily and there are several factors that can influence what a person thought they saw. This can lead to the mistaken identity of another person and subsequent conviction of that person for a crime they did not commit. Sadly, there are well-documented cases across the country showing that the testimony of an eye-witness was inaccurate.

The human memory is faulty and numerous studies prove that people can look at the same person or hear the same story and yet, will remember the experience differently.

Other factors that influence memory:

  • The role of the person listening to the story
  • Personal bias on the part of the witness
  • Multiple retelling of the story
  • Revelation of details to the witness
  • The method in which the memory is withdrawn
  • Victim trauma
  • Passage of time
  • Presence of intoxicating liquor or drugs
  • Fatigue

With so many things that can influence what a person recalls seeing, it is important for the courts to make sure that the witness has not been unduly influenced by people around them.

Victims as witnesses

When a person is accused of committing a violent crime like rape or sexual assault, there is some possibility that the victim is identifying the accused because they are subconsciously replacing the face of their attacker. This can especially occur if the victim and the person accused had any prior contact. Any kind of traumatic assault on a victim is going to severely affect their memory and their ability to recall details of that event. Sometimes, the mind may insert the face of a person because they may have similar features to the person who committed the crime. These features could be a uniform, the color of their hair or height.

Disproving eye-witness testimony

Because witnesses will swear that they saw what they said they saw, it lies in the defense attorney’s hands to remind a jury that memory is faulty. This can be accomplished with the use of experts and by asking questions of the witness that show their confusion. When someone is accused of a crime, it is important to retain a Colorado criminal defense attorney that has handled eye-witness testimony issues.