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Did you know that a witness’s memory can change?

The idea of bringing an eyewitness to court seems very simple. That person saw the alleged crime take place. They have no reason to lie about it, at least in theory. Therefore, they can come to court and recount their memories of the event so that the judge and jury can decide how to proceed.

There are numerous problems with this process. Some witnesses are biased. Others are unreliable. Some may feel confident about what they saw even though there were issues preventing them from seeing clearly — weather, distance, etc. But one interesting factor is that their very memories of the event can change.

Every recall brings on the potential for change

The issue is that simply recalling memories can lead to mistakes and oversights. These can then form the new memory of the event. With enough tiny changes, the entire memory can shift.

For instance, maybe the witness says they know you were there because they remember you were wearing blue. The problem? The person who committed the crime was wearing brown. However, in retelling the event to friends, the witness couldn’t remember the color and thought that it was blue. They’ve now told the story so many times that they feel like they remember you wearing blue and leaving the scene, despite the fact that it never happened.

This may seem like a minor change, but that’s the whole issue. It can cause the account to shift. The witness can also get ideas about what happened from the news, from television in general, from talking to friends, from discussing it with other witnesses or from many other sources. If these sources implement a new fact, these “facts” can become intertwined with the memory. In the end, the witness has an inaccurate memory of the event, but they honestly think that they are still telling the truth.

Your defense options

If you’re facing charges, it’s important to know how this phenomenon happens and how it may impact your case. You also need to know as much as you can about your defense options as things move forward.