It is a well known principle in both civil litigation and criminal law that memories fade causing witness testimonies to be distorted and confused. While an eyewitness may have every intention of being honest, it is often difficult, if not impossible, to recall events with crystal-clear recollection. Accordingly, it is very important to gather physical evidence, such as surveillance footage and photographs, in order to prove a case and be successful in court.
On May 13, 2015, a Manhattan police officer shot David Baril, a hammer-wielding man that was attempting to attack a fellow officer. As reported by the New York Times, two witnesses came forward with contradicting statements as to the events that took place. One witness, Anthony O'Grady, told reporters that a man was fleeing from the police when he was shot, and another witness, Sunny Khalsa, reported that the man handcuffed at the time the police shot him.
However, the surveillance footage proved both Mr. O'Grady and Ms. Khalsa wrong. Mr. Baril was neither handcuffed nor fleeing at the time he was shot; he was attempting to attack a police officer by swinging a hammer when he was shot by a fellow officer.
There is no evidence that Mr. O'Grady or Ms. Khalsa were intentionally attempting to deceive reporters - rather their misstatements can be explained by studies which demonstrate that errors are all-too-common in memories of traumatic events.
Memories are often recollected with holes or missing details, which are reconstructed with bits from other portions in the person's life or something that the individual read or saw on television. Memory can be affected by many different things, including the retelling of the story itself. Indeed, people often tailor retelling of events based on the audience or listener, which, in turn, may affect the teller's memory of the initial event. Additionally, memory can be altered by the introduction of false memories by third parties, such as a lawyer or investigator asking questions a certain manner.
Many trials revolve around witness testimony, and it is often the case that the plaintiff will have a different memory of the events than a defendant. While both sides may be stating what they believe to be the truth, it is likely that the stories will contradict each other due to false memories of the witnesses.
Since memories are, by their very nature, fallible, it is important to attempt to have photographic or surveillance footage as well in order to corroborate the events. At Louis Grandelli, P.C., we work quickly to obtain surveillance footage, if available, of accidents in our cases. We also work with investigators and our clients to speak with witnesses of the accidents and collect available evidence, such as photographs.