When you face a serious criminal charge in Florida and wind up before a judge or jury, eyewitnesses may play a big role in whether your case ends with a conviction. Few forms of evidence are as convincing to a jury as eyewitness testimony. However, there is an important difference between being convincing and compelling and being accurate.
Per the Association for Psychological Science, eyewitness accounts are much more subject to distortion than many people realize. So, too, are false convictions that are the result of eyewitness misidentifications.
When DNA evidence came into play in the 1980s, it helped identify individuals who were falsely convicted. Many of these individuals received those convictions after eyewitnesses testified to seeing them at a crime scene. Since 1989, there have been 358 people who received death sentences in court only to undergo exoneration due to DNA evidence afterward. Of those 358 individuals, more than 70% received their convictions in cases involving eyewitness misidentifications. They also served an average of 14 years behind bars apiece following their false convictions.
It may surprise you how often false eyewitness identifications are also cross-racial misidentifications. This means that, in these cases, an eyewitness identified someone of a different race than the actual perpetrator. Of those 358 individuals who received death sentences due to misidentifications and then underwent exoneration due to DNA evidence, 221 of them were Black.
Eyewitness accounts rely on memories. However, memories are not like a video and are instead malleable, unreliable and vulnerable to bias. This is troubling given just how much judges and juries may rely on the testimony of eyewitnesses when making decisions about your case.