Did you know what else you call eyewitness testimony? Simply this: “He said, she said,” which means you can go to jail because someone thinks you did it based on that person’s memory of events.
Melissa Healy’s article with the Los Angeles Times debunks the validity of eyewitness testimony – which is ultimately based on memory. Memory “can’t always be trusted,” as Healy writes in her headline.
Memory can even be manipulated through science. Healy’s subject is a science experiment conducted by researchers at MIT. Researchers put a false memory in mice:
“The mice with the light-sensitive brain cells made the connection, ‘remembering’ an association that never was: that the specific spot they had explored before was the place where they got a painful shock.
Given the opportunity to roam through a maze, these mice assiduously avoided the spot where they ‘remembered’ being shocked. But the mice who lacked the light-sensitive chemical tag made no such false memory, and happily returned to the designated place.”
Given the MIT researchers’ success in implanting false memories in mice, should we be so keen on trusting eyewitness testimony? Should we give it so much weight? These are questions criminal defense lawyers have been raising for a long time.