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Trauma can lead to cases of mistaken identity

The recent shooting death of 7-year-old Texas girl Jazmine Barnes is a stark reminder of how trauma can affect memory. In this case, the innocent girl happened to be riding in a car that was fired upon when a gunman pulled up next to it in a parking lot.

The composite sketch gathered from Barnes’s three sisters and their mother (who was shot and injured) described the shooter as a white man in his 30s or 40s who drove a red pickup truck. Yet authorities soon arrested and charged a 20-year-old black man with capitol murder.

Rearranging the facts

The explanation offered after the arrest was that a teen-aged sister in the car said the shooter was white but wearing a black sweatshirt. Police now believe that the white man in the pickup may have been a witness who was the last detail the teen witness remembered before the shooting began.

According to a story about the incident, eyewitnesses are generally regarded as the least reliable source for information in a case. This is attributed to the trauma the witness may experience at the time of the incident. Experts believe that the body prioritizes resources and sharpens focus to help people cope with stressful situations. This can influence how actions are recorded, where the emphasis of attention is placed and how memories are recalled after the fact.

Experts point out that people who witness a traumatic event will unconsciously use their own life experiences, understanding of the world and perceptions of others to fill out memories. The brain’s capacity to function is limited by the danger it perceives and the ability to absorb information of an event that happens very quickly.

Criminal defense attorneys can help

The role of a knowledgeable and experienced criminal defense attorney is to protect their client’s rights under the law. This includes the skillful cross-examination of witnesses in trying to determine what is an accurate recollection and what is an example of the brain is filling in inaccurate details.

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