Criminal defense lawyers have long known that eyewitness testimony isn’t
as reliable as prosecutors claim. And yet plenty of people accused and
charged with crimes continue to be convicted based primarily on eyewitness
Did you know what else you call eyewitness testimony? Simply this: “He
said, she said,” which means you can go to jail because someone
thinks you did it based on that person’s memory of events.
Melissa Healy’s article with the Los Angeles Times debunks the validity
of eyewitness testimony – which is ultimately based on memory. Memory
“can’t always be trusted,” as Healy writes in her headline.
Memory can even be manipulated through science. Healy’s subject is
a science experiment conducted by researchers at MIT. Researchers put
a false memory in mice:
“The mice with the light-sensitive brain cells made the connection,
‘remembering’ an association that never was: that the specific
spot they had explored before was the place where they got a painful shock.
Given the opportunity to roam through a maze, these mice assiduously avoided
the spot where they ‘remembered’ being shocked. But the mice
who lacked the light-sensitive chemical tag made no such false memory,
and happily returned to the designated place.”
Given the MIT researchers’ success in implanting false memories in
mice, should we be so keen on trusting eyewitness testimony? Should we
give it so much weight? These are questions criminal defense lawyers have
been raising for a long time.