Earlier this month, a man wielding a hammer was shot by police on a New York City street. This was the culmination of a protracted standoff, wherein the man threatened both police and passers-by, and may have been the final in a line of vicious assaults. David Baril, age 30, dubbed the “Hammer Man” by local media, has been charged with seven counts of assault and possession of a deadly weapon, and is suspected to be the perpetrator of four previous hammer-related attacks. Two officers recognized Baril on the street as matching the description of the serial hammerer and stopped him for further questioning. It was then that he withdrew his weapon of choice, still streaked with the blood of his former victims*, and began swinging at Officer Lauren O’Rourke, striking her on the base of her head. Reacting quickly, O’Rourke’s partner, Officer Geraldo Casiagne, fired four shots at Baril, hitting him twice, and incapacitating him.
(*Fortunately, Baril’s other victims survived with minor injuries, despite being struck in the head and upper body.)
This incident was public, gruesome and bizarre. Seemingly without motive, a man exorcised his personal demons in violent fashion, choosing innocent bystanders as the target of his rage. While the rationale may never truly be revealed (may not exist at all, in all likelihood), the scenario in general shines a light on a widespread legal problem: the fallibility of human memory, the sometimes dangerous reliance on eyewitness testimony, and the fragility of “truth.”
Investigating officers, arriving on the scene after paramedics had already come to the aid of David Baril, collected accounts from citizens on-hand. Through no fault of their own, many of their recollections differed from what is now the agreed-upon actuality of events. One witness claimed that the man shot was in handcuffs at the time. One witness erroneously believed that David Baril was trying to flee, when it seems the precise opposite was the case. (Brandishing the hammer, Mr. Baril was running towards Officer O’Rourke.) And Mr. Baril was only later handcuffed. So what investigators were left with was an unfinished puzzle, a muddle of conflicting eyewitness accounts, that contradicted both each other and the surveillance footage of the scene.
Luckily, the surveillance footage recovered seems comprehensive and resolute. Because the truth is, misremembering of this nature occurs all of the time. Especially in the aftermath of intense or traumatic incidents. The brain, trying always to safeguard itself from the aftereffects of trauma, may subconsciously cause lapses, dilations or alterations. The one attempting to recall the scene might be perfectly sure that they have seen one thing, confident in their opinion, despite an alternate event having actually played out. Trying to find the degree to which a witness’ memory differs from the reality of the event is just one hurdle detectives face every day. Outside stimuli also plays a major part. Hearing other witnesses’ testimonies may lead a person to believe they saw something they did not. The brain craves continuity, and may bridge gaps in narrative by creating false memories. Over time, they begin to feel just as real as the “real” memories themselves. None of which means that a person giving testimony is acting maliciously, or withholding information due to vested interests. Simply put, they may not even realize what they are doing. Numerous studies have been conducted where scientists, using even slight power of suggestion, cause test participants to distort their recounting of a hypothetical story.
Of course, when it comes to criminal prosecution, the end goal is realizing the greatest truth, and therein lies a tremendous difficulty not only for detectives, but for attorneys of all kinds, and judges, and for the defendants whose lives hang in the balance when the powers that be try to establish the veracity of incidents.
Hopefully, if for nothing else, this episode is telling of some of these difficulties which are encountered when trying to tease the truth out of a situation. At Kaplan Lawyers PC, we are both compassionate to your plight and experienced in our field. We’ve found success handling cases of all types, catering to a wide array of clientele. So if it is your future that is hanging in the balance, you surely recognize the importance of discerning between true memories and false memories. No one is better at confirming the truth of your situation than Kaplan Lawyers PC. With cutting edge technology at our disposal and years of hard-earned know-how combined, we offer unparalleled legal representation. We believe in your innocence, and we know how to best convince the world of the same. So regardless of what you stand accused of, we can help mount a strong defense for you.
Our consultations are a free and easy to get started, so contact us today.