One reason you face false criminal allegations is that an eyewitness says they saw you. They might say they saw you committing the crime, leaving the scene, or in the general area at the time it was committed.
The police and prosecution love eyewitnesses as it gives them a solid lead. Or what they assume is a solid lead. The problem is, eyewitnesses are not that reliable.
Our eyes and memory are not as good as we think
People overestimate their ability to recall what they saw. Here are a few reasons why eyewitnesses may say they saw you when they did not:
- They did not see you well: Distance, lighting and weather can all reduce the ability to see clearly. The human brain also tends to focus on one thing at a time.
- They do not remember well: We forget a lot of what we see, and our brain fills in the gaps. Think back to your favorite childhood memories, and the chances are some of them did not happen as you remember. Through repeated telling or viewing of photos, your brain completed a story.
- They are framing you: The average person in the street is unlikely to set you up, but some people might. It could be revenge for something you did, to get you out of the way, or because they were the ones who committed the crime.
- The police or prosecution suggested it was you: There are various ways of putting a question to an eyewitness. There is a big difference between “Is one of these people the person you saw?” and “This is the person you saw, isn’t it?” Not all suggestions are blatant. Sometimes eyewitnesses pick up unconscious cues from their interviewer.
Do not assume an eyewitness will put you behind bars. Understanding how to contest their testimony will give you a better chance of walking free if you’re facing serious criminal charges.