Eyewitness testimony really is not that reliable, and courts have finally begun to take note. After all, it is impossible to ignore the fact that DNA has exonerated many people originally convicted based on eyewitness accounts. If you have been charged with a crime such as carjacking or arson, it is possible that significant flaws exist in the prosecution's case, thanks to the imprudent reliance on eyewitnesses.
Alleged crime victims are often under tremendous stress when they give descriptions for sketches or statements, or when they identify possible perpetrators. Their state of mind is such that they are more receptive to suggestions, which can be dangerous if the police think they already know who committed the crime. Similarly, if victims cannot answer many questions, they may feel like they are disappointing the police and so may be more likely to agree with comments made by officers.
Eyewitness issues are especially pervasive when they cross racial lines. For example, white people are likely not as familiar with black people's style of dress, facial structures and speech as they are with other members of their own race. When a white woman sees a white man, she may note, "Oh, his nose is crooked." When she sees a black man, she may simply think, "He's black." Unfamiliarity ratchets up the odds of a wrong identification.
Passage of time
The passage of time works against accurate eyewitness identifications in several ways. For one thing, if a witness is asked to do a lineup three months after a crime, the memories are not as sharp as they would have been right after the crime. Also, if a witness felt somewhat pressured by police or other officials to give certain statements or to make certain identifications, the passage of time makes it less likely the witness will reveal what happened. Witnesses may even come to believe what they have said, a phenomenon known as false memory. Since crimes often do not get tried quickly, the delays between events and testimony is a big problem.
Then there are factors such as whether the witness had his glasses on, how dark it was exactly, how far the alleged perpetrator was from the eyewitness and so on. These influences can skew the issues touched here even more.
Being charged with a crime often leads to frustration and confusion. Getting in touch with an attorney who understands the weaknesses of eyewitnesses is one way to help make sure your rights are protected.