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Proof that eyewitnesses can't be trusted

When you get to court in Kansas, an eyewitness may be produced, claiming he or she saw you commit the crime. In television shows and movies—and, sometimes, in real life—this is basically the end of the trial. If there is an eyewitness, the testimony will put you behind bars, right?

Not so fast. Many experts say that eyewitnesses are actually highly unreliable, and there have been hundreds of cases in which their testimonies have provided guilty verdicts that were later overturned with DNA evidence.

One study said that eyewitnesses were wrong in about 33 percent of cases. Another, looking at DNA evidence, found 200 cases in which the scientific evidence proved the witnesses were wrong. Researchers have said that people who are not lying—they honestly think they are telling the truth, and they mean well—are simply wrong much of the time.

For example, consider the shootings in Washington D.C., back in 2002. Witnesses called the police and said that the shooters, who had killed 10 people from a vehicle, had a white box truck. They also said that the shooters themselves were white. Police searched for the vehicle and the men with no luck.

They were caught eventually, though, and the witnesses had been astounding wrong. The men were African American, and they were in a blue sedan. Multiple people had called in the same incorrect reports, delaying the arrest and possibly costing others their lives.

If you go to court, it's very important to know that an eyewitness account will not absolutely put an end to a case, and you must know what legal steps you can take.

Source: Discovery, "Eyewitnesses: Why They Can't Be Trusted," Benjamin Radford, accessed May 06, 2016

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