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Memory plays tricks: an adage grounded in strong realities

Sometimes a faulty memory yields results that are not particularly notable or dramatic. OK, so it took you an hour to find the keys you were sure you left on the kitchen table but ultimately found on top of the TV remote. The vet appointment you know you scheduled for your dog today was actually ... yesterday. The neighbors just knocked on your door in response to a dinner invitation you extended and then entirely forgot about.

The downsides of a faulty or lapsed memory, while often frustrating, are also often not material in any truly meaningful way.

And yet, notwithstanding that caveat, there are realms where failed human memory yields stark consequences, indeed, with criminal investigations/outcomes sometimes driving home that point in a truly frightful way.

We note that in an article on our website at the Law Office of Christopher A. Connelly in Charlotte, which passes along this harrowing finding from a noted criminal justice group: Reportedly, "eyewitness errors have contributed to about 75 percent of wrongful convictions that were cleared based on DNA evidence."

The bottom line regarding memory is simply this: It is far from fallible. Moreover, it can be jarred in fundamental ways by stress, fatigue, the passing of time, the conditions under which its details are solicited and recorded (for example, a police interrogation or identification procedures) and many other factors.

An experienced criminal defense attorney intimately knows this, understanding that identification and related errors can easily occur even for witnesses recalling perceived events in absolute good faith.

Given the strong potential for false memories and misidentification to play a role in a criminal case, it is a flat imperative that all eyewitness accounts be carefully examined and tested.

Because when they're not, there is an inherent risk that truth might be undermined and an innocent party punished as a consequence.

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