False convictions put innocent people behind bars. They’re one of the worst mistakes the court system can make, and the whole system is designed to avoid them. However, they still happen.
The eyewitness statement is a key part of the legal process in the United States. When someone picks another person out of a lineup or testifies that they saw that person at the scene of the crime, it can significantly sway a jury’s opinion. After all, the accused may have a reason to lie, but the eyewitness often does not.
However, that thinking does not account for simple mistakes. The eyewitness may think they’re telling the truth while making a critical error.
The problems this creates reach beyond simply putting the wrong person in jail. In about half of the cases — 48 percent — the person who actually committed the crime then commits yet another crime. This means that someone is victimized when they should not have been, had the right person simply been caught and prosecuted the first time. If the authorities just knew the guilty person was at large, perhaps they could have prevented that second event.
If you get accused of a crime and an eyewitness incorrectly testifies that you are guilty, make sure you know all of the legal defense options you have. This happens more often than many people realize, and it is very hard to trust an eyewitness.