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Weapon focus can impact what a witness remembers

Despite how often their testimonies are used in court, we do know that witnesses' memories are often inaccurate. This sometimes means that those memories change over time or that people just were not able to form accurate memories as the event occurred, even if they think that they did so.

One reason that they may have an inaccurate memory of the event is a phenomenon known as the "weapon focus effect." Researchers have known about this for a while, and it continues to have an impact on these cases. Essentially, it just means that witnesses to a crime that involves a weapon will often spend a disproportionate amount of time looking at the weapon itself. This can lead to problems with actually identifying the person holding that weapon.

When asked to pick the person out of a lineup, it's easy for an outsider to assume that the witness could do it quickly. They were in the room. This person supposedly captured the attention of anyone else in that room. It's a very memorable event. When they decide who the perpetrator was, the jury believes them.

The reality, though, is that a witness may spend just a fraction of the time looking at the perpetrator and making mental notes about their gender, age, skin color, identifying marks, height, weight, hair color, and all the rest. They'll just come away with a very general sense of who the person was -- a middle-aged white male, for example, rather than a 40-year-old white man with brown hair, a thin beard and tattoos on the backs of his arms. This can impact their ability to accurately identify the person later, and it leads to mistaken accusations by the people who should be best able to make those identifications.

If you're facing serious charges and there are issues like this with the witness testimony, it's crucial to understand your defense options.

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Law office of Scott G. Cerbin ESQ., PLLC