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Challenging Eyewitness Testimony in Homicide Cases

 Posted on December 23, 2023 in Criminal Defense

IL defense lawyerEyewitness testimony can sway a jury from a not-guilty to a guilty verdict, or vice versa. This testimony is often more widely available and can be used on its own to convict a defendant in a criminal trial. 

While an eyewitness may testify to seeing certain events unfold, many eyewitnesses are mistaken. An estimated 77,000 suspects are arrested each year on eyewitness testimony. However, studies show that mistaken eyewitness testimony can be attributed to more than 50% of all wrongful convictions.

If you have been charged with a crime, do not hesitate to contact an experienced Chicago criminal defense attorney who can help assess the reliability of eyewitness testimony in your case.

Factors that Affect Eyewitness Testimony

There are several factors that will affect the credibility of eyewitness testimony:

Lighting and Environmental Conditions

The lighting and environment at the scene of the crime will be significant factors in the credibility of eyewitness testimony. If the lighting is dim, an eyewitness may be unsure of what actually happened.

Memory and Exposure Time

Being able to view a person’s face for more time is proven to result in more confident eyewitness testimony.

In an experiment testing the ability of people to recognize facial features when shown a series of faces, participants were divided into two groups. Group 1 was exposed to a series of faces for 20 seconds, while Group 2 was only exposed to each face for three seconds. Test results revealed that Group 1 demonstrated significantly better facial recognition than Group 2.

Stress and Trauma

If the event was particularly traumatic or the witness correlates past stress to the crime, this will impact testimony. A person who witnesses a traumatic event may have difficulty remembering what happened or even “holes” in his or her memory.

Police Questioning Style

Police officers who use suggestive questioning will influence eyewitness testimony. If a police officer asks a leading question with misinformation, the eyewitness will likely answer without correcting the officer. 

This is known as the “misinformation effect” since it plants misinformation in the witness’s mind. This misinformation will most likely become a permanent part of a witness’s recollection of the incident.

Lineup Verbal and Nonverbal Cues

In constructing a police lineup, the police usually know who the suspect is, and they will place other people as “fillers.” Lineup administrators often give verbal and nonverbal cues that influence witness identification.

If the eyewitness identifies the wrong suspect, the police may say, “Take your time and look through all the photos once more.” This will likely cause the eyewitness to look again and identify another person as the perpetrator. Nonverbally, a police officer may fail to make eye contact if the officer disagrees with the eyewitness’s selection.

How can a Defense Lawyer Challenge Eyewitness Testimony?

A Cook County criminal defense lawyer has the experience to gauge the credibility of an eyewitness and will know what questions to ask on cross-examination.

Depending on the above-listed factors, a defense lawyer may be able to challenge eyewitness testimony by calling attention to:

  • The eyewitness’s opportunity to see the culprit’s face
  • The level of detail the eyewitness provides in identifying the culprit’s face
  • The amount of time that passed between the crime and the eyewitness’s identification of the culprit

Contact a Chicago, IL, Criminal Defense Lawyer Today

An eyewitness can provide powerful testimony which can make or break your case. If you are facing accusations of a crime based on eyewitness testimony, you need a Cook County, IL, criminal defense lawyer who will fight for you. Contact Law Offices of James F. DiQuattro today online or by calling 312-627-9482 to schedule your free consultation.  

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