Mother Takes Blame for 26 Year-Old Son After Child Hit by Car – Issue of Eyewitness Testimony

From the Register-Herald today, the full article for which can be found here.

In Nicholas County, a 64 year old woman named Shirley Gilles is expected to be charged with filing a false police report. According to investigators, her 26 year-old son hit and critically injured a 12 year-old child who was walking to school. The child was taken to CAMC via HealthNet helicopter.

The son, Justin Gilles, was driving on a suspended license. He left the scene and then returned with his mother, who told investigators that she was the one driving. However, an eyewitness reportedly told police otherwise.

Eyewitness testimony becomes very important at this point. However, eyewitness testimony is also very unreliable compared to other forms of evidence. When I was in law school, a criminal clinic professor showed the entire class a video of a man walking out of a building carrying a box. Then he drops the box walking down the steps of the building, after which another person stops to help him. Then the professor stopped the video and began asking the class questions about what they remember seeing. There were about 25 different versions of what the people looked like, what color clothes they were wearing, how old they looked, and what actually happened in the video. The moral of the story is, that we don’t realize how inherently unreliable eyewitness memories can be. In the above case however, it would be pretty difficult to confuse a 64 year-old woman with a 26 year-old man. It probably has happened though, and certainly an experienced trial lawyer can muddy the waters in front of a jury.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Car Accident Attorney.


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