What is the Role of Eyewitness Testimony in Homicide Cases in Utah?

Eyewitness testimony can play a critical role in Utah homicide cases. However, eyewitness testimony is not nearly as trustworthy as many think.

If you have been charged with homicide, eyewitness testimony can make all the difference in your case. If the prosecution is relying on an eyewitness to convict you, our firm can help defend your case. We know that many eyewitnesses in homicide cases are not as sure about the identity of the defendant as they believe. We can question these witnesses in your case to determine if they had the time to identify you or if the chaos of the situation prevented them from seeing who actually did the crime. We can also review your case to make sure the police legally questioned eyewitnesses before your trial.

For a free case review, contact our Riverton, UT homicide defense attorneys at Overson Law, PLLC by calling (801) 758-2287.

How is Eyewitness Testimony Used in Utah Homicide Cases?

The prosecution often relies on eyewitness testimony to get convictions in Utah homicide cases. “Eyewitnesses” are those who witnessed the murder firsthand and can potentially identify the defendant in court. Some homicide cases are for attempted murder because the victim ended up surviving.

In attempted homicide cases, the eyewitnesses will typically be the victims themselves. In standard homicide trials, the eyewitnesses will be those the police were able to interview after the incident, and the prosecution believes they can make a credible identification for the jury.

Their testimony often plays a crucial role in a homicide trial because many juries find eyewitnesses reliable. However, many people overestimate the power of memory. This can result in convicting an innocent person of a murder they did not commit. According to the Innocence Project, 60% of their clients’ wrongful convictions were based on eyewitness testimony that misidentified the defendant.

Because eyewitness testimony might be the bulk of the evidence in the prosecution’s case, it is important to prepare your defense as soon as possible. Our Utah homicide defense attorneys have several ways of challenging this testimony. Every jury should decide guilt in a murder trial because the cause is beyond a reasonable doubt. If factors show that the eyewitness cannot be relied upon, it should not be used to effectively destroy your life.

In other cases, you might have eyewitnesses of your own who can testify to your innocence. However, the prosecution will attack their reliability just as we would question their witnesses. They will usually try to convince the jury that your eyewitnesses have a motive to lie on your behalf. Our lawyers can argue, using other evidence in your case, why your eyewitnesses can be trusted.

How Our Defense Attorneys Can Challenge Eyewitness Testimony in Utah Homicide Cases?

Just because someone swears they saw a particular person commit homicide does not mean they could not be wrong. Many people think that the memory of a traumatic event like a homicide would be burned into the memory of an eyewitness. On the contrary, many factors can impact how an eyewitness perceives an event and what they remember from it.

Thus, eyewitness testimony is not nearly as accurate as most of us would hope, especially for homicide cases. The following are some of the ways our attorneys can fight eyewitness testimony in your case:

Challenge the Eyewitness’s Memory and the Time to Identify

The eyewitness’s memory of the event and you will typically be the first avenue of attack for our attorneys if the witness is a stranger or not well known to you. That is because it is hard to challenge the memory of an eyewitness who knows the defendant well.

If the eyewitness was unfamiliar with the defendant, we can question them about how long they had to identify you when the crime occurred. The less time they had to identify you, the less credible their claims might be. The witness might even state in court that they were mistaken or not sure. Even raising the presumption to the jury that the eyewitness is not sure if the defendant in court is the same person they saw commit the crime can be immensely helpful.

The challenges often work best when the prosecution has little other evidence to go on. If the prosecution lacks forensic evidence or other witnesses, its case could come apart.

Question the Lighting and Surrounding Conditions

Another way to challenge the eyewitness’s testimony is to question them about the surroundings where the homicide occurred. For instance, if there was little lighting in the area, the witness might only have seen part of the alleged defendant’s face or is basing their testimony on clothing they saw. We can question an eyewitness on the stand so they describe exactly what they did and did not see.

Question the Trauma and Stress the Witness was Under

Homicides are often highly traumatic and stressful incidents, especially when eyewitnesses are involved. If the murder was witnessed firsthand, it would be common for many to panic and be overwhelmed with what they just saw.

While some might think this would make the memory of the perpetrator stronger, it can actually have the opposite effect. Those who witnessed something as shocking as a homicide will likely have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which can cause them to have holes in their memory. If there were several witnesses, the chaos and confusion can cause an eyewitness to mistakenly identify the wrong person.

Challenge Police Interrogation Tactics

We might also be able to challenge the way eyewitness testimony was gathered by the police. For example, if law enforcement asked leading questions when interviewing eyewitnesses or pressed them to answer in ways that would help the prosecution, those statements can be challenged. In other cases, the police might have intimated eyewitnesses from testifying on your behalf, which would typically constitute misconduct.

Challenge the Police Lineup

Many eyewitnesses will identify a potential defendant before testifying in court through a police lineup. Some lineups are done by physically bringing in multiple people who look similar and waiting for the witness to identify one. Others are conducted by presenting the witness with several photos, with one being the suspect and the others acting as fillers. If the witness identifies the wrong person, it can be used to fight their testimony. Your defense will be strengthened if the witness makes several failed attempts before identifying you.

Sometimes, the police will try to influence a witness during a lineup. This often happens through subtle gestures or asking the witness to look again. Our lawyers will thoroughly question the witness about the lineup during your case.

Our Utah Homicide Defense Lawyers Can Help if Eyewitness Testimony is Being Used Against You

Call Overson Law, PLLC at (801) 758-2287 for a free case evaluation with our Park City homicide defense lawyers.