What the witness sees and remembers is a function of many factors specific to that witness and the crime scene: the witnesses ability to see without glasses, the absence of any lighting at night. What complicates matters is the deliberate or unintentional police actions (and actions of others – see ‘memory conformity’ issues).
The American legal system offers few moments as dramatic as an eyewitness to a crime pointing his finger across a crowded courtroom at a defendant.
The problem is that decades of studies show eyewitness testimony is right only about half the time – a reality that has prompted a small vanguard of police chiefs, courts and lawmakers to toughen laws governing the handling of eyewitnesses and their accounts of crimes.
But now, Eyewitness Testimony is no Longer A Gold Standard, says AP.
The U.S. Supreme Court had a chance to establish a national standard for eyewitness testimony when it handled a 2012 case from New Hampshire. The court instead delegated that responsibility to the states, which could choose to overhaul their laws or do nothing at all. Most chose the latter.
In Maryland, however, legislators this week passed a bill that overhauls eyewitness identification procedures, joining roughly a half-dozen states and cities.