Witness Memories Change Dramatically Over Time
May 31, 2019
While facing criminal charges, you find yourself in a situation where it’s your word against that of an eyewitness. Their stories and what they remember is far different from the account that you give.
Is the witness lying? Possibly, but it’s also likely that their memory of the situation simply changed over time. They may feel like they remember what happened accurately, but the truth may be something else entirely.
The issue is that “activating” memories or purposefully recalling them has an involuntary side effect: It can alter that memory. Some experts say that we are “constantly” changing these memories “every time we access them.“
New information, for instance, can alter the memory. The witness may have talked to other people or read news reports or watched those reports on TV. That information can creep into their memories until they believe that is what they saw. They don’t do it on purpose, but it then becomes very hard for them to sort fact from fiction.
With criminal cases, this is especially problematic because the witness may have to activate those memories over and over again. They talk to the police. They talk to their friends. They talk to family members. They talk to other witnesses. And, most of all, they give their account in court, to the judge and the jury. Every time, there is a chance that those memories could change.
Do you think that this happened in your case, and are you worried that you will get convicted based on someone’s inaccurate account? Be sure you know what legal defense options you have.