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TN rape case brings up reliance on witnesses vs. science, pt. 2

Last week we shared a post about a Tennessee rape case that went wrong for too long for one local man. It took decades for the criminal justice system to get it right and to free a man who was wrongfully convicted for rape. 

While that Tennessee man's fight for adequate resolution is important, there is a wider criminal justice issue to address. The testimony of eyewitnesses, including supposed victims, can put defendants in danger of being falsely identified.

Psychological professionals have researched the issue of eyewitness testimony. Why can such so-called "evidence" create a danger of false evidence against a defendant? Geoffrey Loftus, PhD, a psychology professor, warns about the following weaknesses in eyewitness testimony:

At 200 feet away from a person, a witness' ability to see someone's eyes is severely limited. How far is 200 feet? The distance from your yard to that of a neighbor, for example, could be enough to prevent a reliable view of a person.

Now say that the distance is greater, perhaps 500 feet. From that distance a witness wouldn't be able to reliably perceive any details of a person's face, as the head would appear to be more of a "blob," according to Loftus.

Psychologists look beyond the biological limitations of eyewitnesses. They also look at the risk for law enforcement to taint the reliability of eyewitness evidence. A next post will delve into that serious criminal justice matter.

Just because something is called evidence does not mean that it is reliable. Evidence against you can be lies. It can be tainted by human limitations. It can be unethically collected. Work with a criminal defense lawyer who understands how to battle the risks of false evidence.

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