Employing Generally Accepted Principles of Neuroscience and Memory in the Legal Field to Address False Eyewitness Testimony Through Trial
On May 12, 2015, a suspect who attacked an NYPD officer with a hammer was shot by police in the middle of the day, on a crowded Midtown Manhattan street. There were multiple eyewitnesses to the incident. Almost all of the witness reports were incorrect. Several people inaccurately reported that the police officers shot an unarmed man while he was on the ground and handcuffed. The incident was recorded on surveillance video, documenting the suspect attacking one of the officers with a hammer and that officer’s partner then shooting the man while he was in the midst of the attack.
To understand eyewitness accounts is to understand injustice. Why is eyewitness memory the leading cause of wrongful convictions? Simply put, we trust that eyewitnesses have no reason to lie, especially when they come forward, unbiased, and take an oath to tell the truth. The problem, rooted in a basic understanding of neuroscientific principles, is that memory is flawed and, therefore, inherently, unreliable.