There are many reasons why errors in eyewitness evidence can occur. Given a situation where a witness has seen a crime take place from a considerable distance and late at night is less likely to make an accurate identification of the accused than a witness who has had more favourable viewing conditions.
A good illustration of the impact of situational variables on eyewitness memory is illustrated by an Australian appeal case, Dominican v Queen4. The accused was charged with attempted murder. The appeal case was based on appellant claims that the trial judge misdirected the jury on the issue of the identification of the gunman by failing to give specific warning concerning various features of the evidence of an eyewitness in the shooting.
Nearly nine months elapsed before she formally identified him from photographs that had been altered to show the appellant wearing a wig and a false moustache. By that time, the appellant was a definite suspect. The witness had seen him on television on a number of occasions and allegedly in the vicinity of her home.
According to the conditions of witnessing in Dominican case, she saw the gunman some distance away. She was hiding behind another vehicle. He was leaning across the passenger’s seat and he was disguised. Her opportunity to observe him was fleeting. Moreover, her first observation of the gunman took place after about 30 shots had been fired in her direction, after she had seen her husband shot through the hand, and after her husband physically pushed her head down.
The direction the judge gave to the jury stated:” His Honour told the jury that ‘(s)udden and unexpected acts of violence such as Mrs F described in this case, can affect people caught up in the events in different ways. The terror of the occasion can serve to impress indelibly on the minds of some people the features of any one they see involved in it. With other people the effect may be