Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Why eyewitness testimony alone is unreliable

It's long been known that so-called 'eyewitness' testimony, unsupported by other evidence, can be dangerously inaccurate.  It can lead to convictions that put people behind bars - or even on Death Row - only to see them exonerated years later through DNA testing or fresh evidence.

The shooting of Michael Brown provides a quintessential case study of the problem.

Some witnesses said Michael Brown had been shot in the back. Another said he was lying face-down when Officer Darren Wilson finished him off. Still others acknowledged changing their stories to fit published details about the autopsy, or admitted that they didn't see the shooting at all.

An Associated Press review of thousands of pages of grand jury documents reveals numerous examples of statements made during the shooting investigation that were inconsistent, fabricated or provably wrong. Prosecutors exposed these inconsistencies before the jurors, which likely influenced their decision not to indict Wilson in Brown's death.

Bob McCulloch, the St. Louis County prosecutor, said the grand jury had to weigh testimony that conflicted with physical evidence and conflicting statements by witnesses as it decided whether Wilson should face charges.

"Many witnesses to the shooting of Michael Brown made statements inconsistent with other statements they made and also conflicting with the physical evidence. Some were completely refuted by the physical evidence," McCulloch said.

. . .

Another man, describing himself as a friend of Brown's, told a federal investigator that he heard the first gunshot, looked out his window and saw an officer with a gun drawn and Brown "on his knees with his hands in the air." He added: "I seen him shoot him in the head."

But when later pressed by the investigator, the friend said he hadn't seen the actual shooting because he was walking down the stairs at the time, and instead had heard details from someone in the apartment complex.

"What you are saying you saw isn't forensically possible based on the evidence," the investigator told the friend.

There's more at the link, including many more examples of falsified testimony in this case.

This leads me to ask two questions.

  1. Will those who deliberately falsified their testimony, and were caught out, be charged with perjury?
  2. If not, why not?



Bob said...

1. No.
2. Way too many blacks in jail alread.y

Differ said...

Bob has the right of it.... sadly.
But the ONLY way to prevent more of this shit is to exercise the law impartially and to its maximum extent.... you perjure yourself and you get prosecuted and you go ddjail.
Any info on the rumor that a black man who gave testimony to the grand jury supporting Officer Wilson's statements turned up dead on Wednesday?

dan said...

...must be why bearing false witness
is so frowned upon. Lying and cheating is one thing,but trying to frame an innocent man....
of course, I hear that the police in Ferguson haven;y been a very good example .

Eric Wilner said...

Perjury has become one of those specialty crimes; it only really applies to those of high status, though it may be used as a threat against ordinary defendants or witnesses.
Should you ever find yourself on the receiving end of legal proceedings, you would do well to remember that the other party can get away with the most outrageous lies with virtually no chance of being punished for them, even if the truth can be readily proven.
(There may be a few judges and prosecutors out there who take it seriously, but "the other side is allowed to lie like a rug" is the way to bet.)

Chuck Pergiel said...

Off hand I suspect perjury requires intent to deceive. If the person making the false statement believes what they are saying at the time they said it, well, that's hardly intent. Foolish, illogical, and perhaps even stupid, but not a provable crime. I am not a lawyer, but I saw one on TV once.