When a person is accused of committing a crime in North Carolina, eyewitnesses are usually seen as a valuable resource for law enforcement officials who are trying to prove the charges. While eyewitnesses can be convincing, the Association for Psychological Science reminds that it does not necessarily mean that they are accurate.

As DNA technology has advanced since the late 1980s, researchers have been concerned with how many cases previously relied on eyewitness testimony to convict. Other than a signed confession from the one accused of the crime, this is one of the most common ways for prosecutors to prove their cases. Since 1989, there have been 358 people who were wrongfully convicted who have been exonerated from prison, and many were convicted with the help of eyewitness testimony.

An inaccurate witness recounting does not necessarily mean that the individual is lying. Many believe that the mind works like a video camera and records events exactly as they happen, but this is not true. Memory guides your actions and gives you a personal identity, and it is also liable to minimize some experiences and exaggerate others based on bias.

The memory creates stories based on experiences. Sometimes those memories are completely fictional and other times they are extremely accurate. Most often, they are a mix between the two, and an eyewitness may change the experience in their mind without even realizing it. It has traditionally been believed that emotionally compelling memories are more accurate than mundane, everyday memories, but research has shown that is not true either.

In many cases, DNA evidence is not available and eyewitness testimony becomes vital to proving or disproving a case. In these situations, it is important to remember that the memory is not always accurate, and the mind can make you believe something that did not really happen.

This information is for educational purposes and should not be interpreted as legal advice.