The uninformed public gives the testimony of “eyewitnesses” far too much credibility. Do any research on the reliability of eyewitness testimony and you find that not only do people not remember correctly what they think or are certain that they saw, but you learn that all too often studies show that ideas and suggestions made after an incident happens or the desire of an individual to be “helpful” ends up tainting or rewriting peoples memories of events. The final memory that people believe is accurate is fragile and can bear little resemblence to the truth.
People should be a little more self-aware of how fleeting and susceptible their own memories are about events that happen around them and their own interactions with other individuals, and that we should know that our memories often cannot be relied upon. You would think that we would be very cautious in expressing certainty based upon our observations; particularly when the lives and well-being of others are affected by what we claim we saw or know.
Yet humans continue to bear witness to false memories and the consequences upon others, as in the two articles below, is disastrous. Jacques Rivera, served 21 years of an 80-year sentence before the appeals court accepted the recanted testimony of Orlando Lopez, the man who fingered Rivera for murder and who originally testified against him. Even now, Rivera is not free, but remains held without bond in Cook County jail, (a jail no one wants to be held in) waiting for the state to decide if it will still retry him for the 1988 murder. Inmate Jamie Snow, has not been so lucky. Even though his attorneys state that a former police officer who is now an inmate can discredit a prime witness’s claim that he saw Snow leave the scene of a murder, and despite that recantation of the testimony of other witnesses, Snow was still recently denied the chance for a new trial. He is just fighting to get his argument heard without any assurance that his life sentence will be overturned.
IL needs a law which prevents eyewitness testimony to either be used alone or in conjunction with just circumstantial evidence to convict anyone of a crime, particularly serious crimes. The consequences to those wrongfully convicted are too great and the error rate in eyewitness testimony is too high to justify such heavy reliance upon it in those cases. There are too many wrongfully convicted, particularly in IL, and too few resources to help them after they have been screwed. Thank goodness for the efforts of Northwestern University Center on Wrongful Convictions and those individual attorneys who, in these tough times, still care enough to do the hard work and investigation required to prove the innocence of those convicted only by eyewitness testimony or circumstantial evidence.