You probably think of your memory as something that is static and fixed, like a picture on your iPhone. Every time you look at that picture, it’s going to be the same.
That’s not really how it works, though. Researchers actually compare memory to something more akin to the children’s “telephone” game. In it, the players sit in a row and pass down a single sentence, with each person whispering that sentence to the next person in line. They can only say it once. Almost inevitably, what the last person hears will be much different than what the first person said.
Memory isn’t exactly like that, but it turns out that recalling a memory gives you a chance to change it. If it does change, then it may be different the next time you recall it. This can happen over and over again. Just as the sentence gets altered with every whisper, the memory gets altered each time, and the end result can be vastly different than what actually took place.
In terms of criminal defense, this phenomenon can really show why witnesses are often wrong, even when they swear that they’re giving as accurate of an account as they can remember. They may not be lying. They just don’t really remember what happened. Details have gotten changed and altered over time. This is part of the reason that they may give a testimony that puts an innocent person behind bars.
If you are facing criminal charges, you need to know how these types of mistakes happen and what legal options you have as you plead your case. You don’t want to try to manage your defense on your own, particularly if there’s witness testimony that needs to be challenged. Make sure you have an experienced advocate fighting for you.