Anyone who has watched “Perry Mason,” “Matlock,” or “The Practice” has seen that crucial moment during a criminal trial where the cunning prosecutor asks a witness the fateful question,
“Do you see the person who shot Mr. X here in the courtroom?”
The witness then ALWAYS points to the criminal defendant, saying. “He is sitting right there!” By the time the TV show ends, the skillful defense attorney inevitably proves that statement wrong, usually in an equally dramatic courtroom confession by the real killer. Of course, this seldom plays out like this in a real-life courtroom…
In reality, a jury will almost always consider the fact that the witness identifies the defendant as the person who committed a serious crime as the most important piece of evidence in the trial.
A skilled defense attorney will try to undermine the witness’s by showing how it’s physically impossible for the defendant to be the correct person, or reveal other credibility issues that the witness has.
A defense attorney may also use a psychologist as an expert witness to explain how people’s minds can play tricks on them in times of unusual stress. As a result, they believe they can identify a person that they did not even see at the time of the crime. Yet the eyewitness identification of the defendant as the person who committed the crime is a very difficult piece of evidence to overcome.
Take the case of Johnny Williams, for example. In 1998, a 9-year-old girl was sexually assaulted by someone who allegedly called himself “Johnny.” When someone in Williams’ neighborhood heard the crime was done by someone named “Johnny,” he or she assumed it was Williams, and told police. During trial, the girl later identified him as the attacker. Williams ended up being convicted and spent 14 years in prison.
The Northern California Innocence Project later got the girls clothing retested. Williams’ DNA did not match what was found on the girl’s clothing. In March 2013, Alameda County prosecutors determined Williams was not guilty.
If your Santa Clara County criminal case involves an erroneous eyewitness identification, get an attorney that can thoroughly investigate as soon as possible. A skilled attorney will be able to bring out the real facts and fight against mistaken eyewitness identification both in and outside the courtroom.
If you or someone you know is accused of a crime, arrested, or contacted by police, contact San Jose criminal defense attorney Maureen Baldwin at (408) 279-4450 to learn your options today!