Personal Injury, Criminal Law, Traffic Violations, and Family Law & Divorce

The problem with eyewitness testimony in court

On Behalf of | Feb 7, 2024 | Theft & Property Crimes

For as long as the justice system has existed, eyewitness testimony has been a cornerstone of trials. While the usefulness of this testimony cannot be ignored, the fact that it can be used to subvert justice has led to various safeguards and criteria for its admissibility. This is to help ensure that only reliable and credible eyewitness testimony is presented in court.

Here are some common scenarios where eyewitness testimony might be challenged or excluded.

Lack of corroborating evidence

When there is a lack of other evidence to support the eyewitness testimony, it may be challenged for reliability. Corroborating evidence could include physical evidence, forensic evidence or testimony from other witnesses. Courts often assess the overall strength of the case, and if it heavily relies on one eyewitness without additional support, it may be considered insufficient.

Unreliable witness

Witness testimony may be deemed inadmissible if the witness is deemed unreliable. This can occur if the witness has a history of making inconsistent statements, has a bias or motive to lie or if they are otherwise deemed to lack credibility. Factors such as intoxication, poor memory or emotional distress at the time of the event can also affect the reliability of the witness and the admissibility of their testimony.

Expert opinion testimony

In some cases, eyewitness testimony may be challenged or excluded if it conflicts with expert opinion testimony. For example, if a forensic expert presents evidence that contradicts the eyewitness’s account of events, the court may give more weight to the expert testimony and exclude or discount the eyewitness testimony.

Procedural irregularities

If there is evidence of procedural irregularities in obtaining or presenting the eyewitness testimony, such as coercion, leading questions or suggestive lineups, it may be deemed inadmissible. The courts aim to ensure that the witness’s account was obtained in a fair and unbiased manner, without any undue influence that could affect its reliability.

Eyewitnesses are important cogs in the justice system, but their testimony must meet certain criteria to be admissible in court. It’s crucial to maintain the integrity of the legal process by ensuring that only credible and reliable evidence is presented to help secure just outcomes.