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Is eyewitness testimony reliable?

On Behalf of | Mar 20, 2021 | Criminal Defense

In a Missouri criminal case, the defendant has the right to cross-examine the witnesses against them. You may assume that the jury is automatically going to accept the testimony of an eyewitness. However, eyewitness testimony is not always reliable. Using cross examination effectively is important to help the jury understand your side of the case.

Questioning a prosecution witness

There are a variety of reasons that a prosecution witness may not offer information that is reliable. Of course, the witness may simply not be telling the truth. They might have been intimidated by someone else, or they may have biases and want the jury to convict.

However, many reasons that a witness may not be reliable are more subtle. For example, the witness may not have been in the right position to truly observe what happened. Their vision may have been obstructed, or noise may have gotten in the way of them hearing the events. A witness might have been distracted, or their attention may not have turned to the relevant events until after the fact.

Leading questions are acceptable in cross examination

For cross examination in criminal defense, the defendant may ask leading questions. Effective questioning helps expose a situation where the witness may not have sufficiently observed events. It also draws out reasons that the person may not be truthful in their testimony. In addition to asking the appropriate questions, it’s critical to craft the questions carefully so that the prosecution witness does not simply retell their story.

Silence can be powerful in court. Even a witness who is called by the prosecution can be helpful to the defense. However, it’s critical to understand what you want the witnesses to say and when you should stop questioning the witness.

Don’t assume reliability in a criminal case

When you understand that eyewitness testimony is not always reliable, you may better help your defense attorney prepare a criminal defense that calls witness statements into question. By casting doubt on what someone says, it’s possible for the jury to question the evidence. Effectively challenging witness testimony is one important part of a complete defense strategy.