Eyewitnesses: Reliable or Not?

The concept of eyewitnesses and eyewitness statements is often debated in several different realms. Some experts say that these statements are not reliable whereas others think differently. However, a Supreme Court in Chicago found that the eyewitness statement (of a police officer) was enough proof in a case of gun possession. It’s important to note that this could influence future cases that are similar as well as set a precedent for future eyewitness statements. While reading about this case, I was curious to know how police body cameras affect their own eyewitness statements. An article from a reporter in Dayton Beach discusses the consequences and benefits of having body cameras. A key point of the article is that the body camera footage can support any statements made by the officer(s) as well as others involved. However, the video from these cameras can be blurry or even covered by other items on the officer’s vest. Additionally, police officers in Florida have the option of turning off their body cameras at their discretion. 

While reading these articles, I found that I became intrigued by the connection of eyewitness memories and Flashbulb memories. Flashbulb memories are detailed autobiographical memories that can often be associated with major life events. In the context of the case previously mentioned, the police officer could have feared for their life which caused them to remember the Defendant having a gun in their possession. This is not only a major event but also falls under the concept of consequentiality. Consequentiality is when someone has a flashbulb memory that could have a meaning in a person’s life. In that police officer’s case, the type of gun, their emotions during this stressful event, and what transpired after the fact could all have influenced their flashbulb memory. 

Overall, these articles were fascinating due to my previous knowledge regarding eyewitnesses. In high school, I was taught that eyewitnesses and their statements are unreliable. Additionally, in my criminal justice class, we were taught to never base a case on eyewitness statements alone. Now as times have changed, it seems that technology has advanced to a point where these testimonies can be supported through things such as video and photos. I believe that this is just the beginning of the advancements to come.

Also, I found a rather interesting video that shows the reliability of eyewitness statements! If anyone would like to check it out, it’s linked here! 🙂

Sources:

Supreme Court Ruling

Body Cameras Support

Florida Body Camera Laws

3 thoughts on “Eyewitnesses: Reliable or Not?

  1. tsmith24

    I also find the concept of eyewitness and eyewitness statements interesting. In certain court cases an eyewitness’ statement might be taken into account or not. As you stated that people either think of them either to be reliable or not so much. Because the way I look at it (and this is from watching too many criminal shows) that the witness can just straight up lie to get attention or lie because they do not like something dealing with the case. But I just wonder what makes the person determine if the memory or the person is reliable to be a eyewitness and to give the statement as one?

  2. hmckeen

    I enjoyed reading your post! I find this to be a really interesting topic. I never knew just how inaccurate eyewitness memories could be until we began learning about the topic this semester. Intuitively, it would seem that the individuals who were physically present at an event would be able to recall the event with a high degree of accuracy. However, as we have learned this semester, that is far from true. Due to the fact that eyewitnesses are so prone to unintentional memory errors, I think it’s beneficial that police officers have begun wearing body cameras. As you mentioned in your post, these body cameras can be used as a way to verify the accuracy of eyewitness memories. Police officers are so frequently under extremely stressful circumstances such that they may be unable to recall events correctly, so body cameras seem to be a useful tool and solution to this problem. Great post!

  3. kownbey

    I did a project on eyewitness testimony in high school. It just seems that there are so many things that can go wrong (implanted memories, for instance) that make eyewitness testimony really tricky. I think you did a really nice job of explaining and exploring these shortcomings, and I agree with all the points you made. I think it’s great that people are actually starting to rely on more concrete evidence like photos and videos
    (body cams), and it takes a lot of the burden off of the shakiness of eye witness testimony. Like we’ve learned, it’s so incredibly easy to plant memories, or to have memories distorted by emotions. It’s definitely interesting to study. Good job!

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