This entry first describes the dependence of criminal evidence on fallible memories of witnesses. It then describes three perennial examples of this problem: false testimony by children, adults’ false identifications of suspects, and false confessions by adult suspects.

Memory and Testimony

A crucial fact that is largely unknown outside the law is the degree to which criminal prosecutions depend upon people’s memories. Statistically, it is uncommon to have physical forensic evidence that bears directly on the guilt or innocence of defendants, and research shows that it is typically not the basis on which they are arrested, charged, and tried. In most cases, such evidence is not even gathered, and when it is, it often cannot be used at trial, for one reason or another. How is guilt/innocence ...

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