Oneida County district attorney working to stop suspect misidentification

By WKTV News

(WKTV) -  Misidentification of criminal suspects in photo arrays is a national problem.  A local district attorney is trying to help come up with solutions on a national level.

"It's really reached a point where all prosecutors are looking at it, trying to figure out is there anything  we can do to make what we're doing better?" says Oneida County District Attorney Scott McNamara.

McNamara is the only district attorney on a national panel of 16 scientists, psychologists and other experts examining how eyewitness identification of criminal suspects occurs, in particular, in photo arrays, and how it can be done better. 

Oneida County's most famous case of mistaken identity helped send an innocent man to prison for nearly 20 years. Steven Barnes spent nearly two decades behind bars after an eyewitness who first failed to identify him, later looked at a photo array again and chose Barnes as the man he thought he saw talking to the victim.

"He did not pick Steven out of a photo array then, in fact he said he couldn't tell between two people, Steven and another person, and he was uncertain. And then ultimately years later he then picked Steven out of that same photo array," said McNamara.

This is part of the reason eyewitnesses now get one shot at photo arrays in the county.

"The person looking at it might say, 'Jeez  No. 3 looks familiar, that looks like the guy'. But are they remembering from the incident, or are they remembering from the first photo array? So now what we recommend is you only do one photo array," said McNamara.

The panel on which McNamara sits is an eyewitness identification subcommittee of the National Academy of Sciences. They will generate a full report on best practices for eyewitness identification.

What's On