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The possibility of flawed eyewitness testimony

On Behalf of | Nov 19, 2023 | Criminal Defense

Many wonder how credible eyewitnesses are in Nebraska courts? You might think eyewitness testimony is the best testimony against a suspect. However, the California Innocence Project found that eyewitness misidentification is the number one cause of convictions of innocent people.

The seriousness of eyewitness error

Criminal defense often calls the validity of eyewitness accounts into question. Thousands of innocent people go to jail each year, and some of them serve long sentences before the truth comes to light.

In 2023, Garardo Cabanillas was freed after serving 28 years of a life sentence for a crime he didn’t commit. At the age of 18, erroneous eyewitness identification played a role in convicting Cabanillas of robbery, kidnapping and sexual assault.

Cabanilas was convicted after two jury trials, during which he proclaimed his innocence and presented an alibi. There was little evidence to convict Cabanillas, and the courts relied on eyewitness testimony from two victims. However, both victims admitted they were doubtful about their accuracy. One eyewitness admitted they hadn’t seen the suspect long enough to get a good look.

What causes eyewitness error?

The aftermath of a crime is usually traumatic. This is even more pronounced if the crime is violent. Conditions after a violent crime are often chaotic, and eyewitnesses are upset. It’s usually during this time that witnesses have to say what they saw. And when a person is upset and frazzled, they’re not thinking clearly.

It’s also possible for law enforcement officials to inadvertently influence eyewitnesses. For example, an officer might ask a witness if they saw the gun the perpetrator used. The eyewitness might say they have no idea. The officer might then make suggestions about the gun in an effort to jog the memory of the eyewitness.

Sometimes a crime occurs too fast for eyewitnesses to get a good look. Consider the aftermath of a hit and run accident. It’s an unexpected event that takes everyone by surprise. Although several people could see the event, they might find it difficult to identify the vehicle that fled.

Eyewitness testimony isn’t as reliable as most people believe. Disputing eyewitness testimony is a criminal defense tactic that can possibly keep an innocent person out of jail.

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