Eyewitness testimony is considered to be evidence when available in an investigation. It is often a reference to testimony given by a witness in court after they’ve seen a crime or incident occur. This testimony can also be discovered during a private investigation into specific issues, such as a workplace disciplinary action.
Here are the pros and cons of eyewitness testimony to review.
List of the Pros of Eyewitness Testimony
1. It provides a direct link to the incident in question.
Investigations are always after the fact. Only eyewitnesses were involved in the initial sequence of events which led to the need of having an investigation in the first place. What they are able to remember provides investigators with a direct link to what happened, allowing them to identify the people involved. This promotes a higher level of safety within society.
2. It can be used as direct evidence.
The testimony of an eyewitness can be used as evidence in a criminal or civil proceeding. It is generally considered reliable, though both parties in the case will have an opportunity to either establish or tarnish the credibility of each witness. No matter how faulty the recall method may be, testimony given in court is used to bolster a case. Eyewitness testimony which provides an alibi is just as important as testimony which points to a specific perpetrator.
3. It can be strengthened with early written statements.
One reason why a written statement is taken from eyewitnesses after an incident occurs is that it reinforces the memory. When you write something down, you are forced to recall the incident with specificity. This creates a written record of the testimony, allowing for it to be referenced in the future, avoiding the issues of reliability that sometimes afflict this type of testimony.
4. It can be combined with other eyewitnesses.
A case with only one eyewitness can be difficult to prove. That is why multiple eyewitnesses are used whenever possible. With multiple people recalling what they remember about an incident, it helps listeners begin to put the pieces of the puzzle together. Even if one person’s recall isn’t 100% perfect, the similarities in each witness creates a foundation for evidence.
List of the Cons of Eyewitness Testimony
1. It is not always reliable.
Eyewitness testimony always depends upon the memory of the individual involved. If their memory is incomplete, then the testimony they provide will be incomplete as well. Even if the person directly witnessed an event, how they perceived what occurred could be different from what other eyewitnesses saw as well.
2. It can be manipulated.
Question wording experiments have shown that lawyers can produce specific answers through eyewitness testimony by inserting certain words into questions about an incident being discussed. That leads the subject to provide an incorrect account of what they saw, even though it feels like a genuine memory to them.
3. It can be influenced by personal emotions.
When someone gets very nervous, it affects their ability to recall specific pieces of information from their memory. The same issue happens when someone feels angry or experiences high levels of stress. These emotions can impact how a memory is initially perceived as well, which prevents a true recall of the events which happened.
4. It can be bought.
Eyewitness testimony is only as reliable as the person who is giving it. To prevent a witness from lying about what they saw, there are perjury and witness tampering laws in place. That doesn’t stop some people from bribing witnesses to say something specific. People can even decide on their own to change their story if they think it will benefit them in a positive way.
5. It can allow perceptions to become reality.
Over time, memory of a specific sequence of events begins to fade. Those events can be influenced by other memories and perceptions. People can think that they have seen something because they once saw a similar event in a movie or television show. Adrenaline in the moment can affect perceptions as well. If you combine real-time perceptions with long-term doubt, then eyewitness testimony may not be accurate.
The pros and cons of eyewitness testimony indicate that it is an important element of any criminal justice proceeding or private investigation. What people see, and recall, allows for justice to be served when it is appropriately used. The issue is that when this testimony is inaccurate, for any reason, then it becomes unreliable and could be used to harm someone instead of helping them.