Understanding the problems with eyewitness testimony in CO

Eyewitness testimony is often considered a powerful form of evidence in criminal cases but it is not always accurate.

When law enforcement agencies arrive to a Colorado crime scene, one key evidence they may search for is an eyewitness. This could be the victim or someone who saw what happened, or was in the vicinity moments before or after the crime occurred. However, while courts and juries place a great deal of emphasis on eyewitness statements, there are several problems that make them quite unreliable.

No policy for lineup identifications

A recent report revealed that one problem with eyewitness testimony is that many law enforcement agencies don't use any written policy. According to USA Today, the report consisted of the review of 619 agencies from around the country and looked at how identification by eyewitnesses were conducted.

Law enforcement uses two methods of identification - photos and a live lineup. For the first type, it was revealed that there was no formal standard in place for 64 percent of the agencies. When it came to live lineups, less than 20 percent of agencies stated that they had a written policy for officers to follow. This meant that the same officers who were investigating the case were often the ones handling the eyewitness identification processes. The report showed that this was the case with 70 percent of the agencies reviewed.

Emphasizing the suspect in a lineup

The American Bar Association states that another concern is that some agencies may actually influence a witness' identification by emphasizing the alleged suspect in the lineup. For example, if officers were using photos, the one of the person under suspicion may be larger than the others, show a different backdrop, or may even be black-and-white while the others are in color.

In live lineups, agencies may fail to make sure that all members in the lineup are similar in build, skin color, height or facial features. If the person suspected of committing the crime is thought to be a tall white male and the other people in the lineup are short with darker skin, it is a sure thing that the witness will pick the only white person.

Natural memory loss

Despite what people want to believe, memory is not always accurate. Live Science states that it is common for people's minds to insert in bits of information from other memories. One older study cited showed that people were easily influenced through statements or suggestions. They would insert memories that were gathered not from the crime witnessed, but by the officer they heard talking about it.

For the best chances of accuracy, it is important that testimony be obtained as soon as possible. In this way, the mind doesn't have the chance to stick the memory away or be exposed to new information that could be woven into the story.

There are many things that can influence people's beliefs of what they think they saw. This puts those who are facing charges for a crime at risk of being unjustly convicted. Therefore, they may want to seek help from an experienced attorney who can help them prove their innocence.