Eyewitness Fail

Back in my prosecutor days I only ever lost two cases, both were jury trials. One was a speeding ticket (to a prepaid legal attorney no less), the other was a lawnmower theft case.

The lawnmower theft went as follows- CW was inside house and testified she saw D pull up and steal her lawnmower. Pretty simple right? To my utter surprise the jury acquits. Maybe the jury knew something about the inherent unreliability of eyewitness testimony. Grits has more than a few posts on the topic. This latest video (H/T to the Agitator) shows that we aren’t all that aware of what’s going on around us. In fact, as a species we kind of suck at paying attention and recalling events.

Eyewitness mistakes are another spoke on the wrongful conviction wheel (along with snitch testimony, the war on drugs, the erosion of our constitutional protections). Most defendants don’t have the funds to afford an expert in neurology to explain exactly what can go wrong when we try to observe and recall.

Therefore every potential juror has a duty to learn about the limits of eyewitness testimony.

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