An eyewitness to a crime is likely relying on their memory. The exception, of course, is when the eyewitness was actively recording the event, e.g., if they were filming it on a Smartphone. Most of the time, though, they’re just recounting what they remember seeing.
This is an important part of a criminal case. A defendant may give one version of events, while his or her opposition gives another version. Eyewitnesses are brought in to give their accounts as a way of determining who is telling the truth — if that can even be determined.
But if the eyewitness is the tiebreaker, you have to consider how flawed their memory may be. Experts at Harvard Medical School note that it’s “exceedingly rare” for someone to have a memory that is flawless. It’s most likely going to fail them in one of a number of ways — from forgetting what happened to remembering things incorrectly.
Take, for instance, a witness who has heard other accounts of the event. Do they actually remember all of the details that they’re relating, or are they just stating the other details they heard? It’s often hard for people to know for sure. They may honestly think that they remember and that they’re telling the truth, not even realizing how flawed their own memory is. This is why they can give an inaccurate account while sounding as confident as someone who is laying out the pure facts.
For defendants in criminal cases, it’s important to know how and why memory fails and what legal options they have in the face of these allegations.