Swanson Says Cases Will “Typically” Not Move Forward When Single Witness Doesn’t Know Accused

MAYVILLE – District Attorney Patrick Swanson said that his office will “typically” not move forward on a case in which the only identification evidence is a single witness who does not know the accused.
In an interview Monday with WNYNewsNow, Swanson said that many of the wrongful convictions that have occurred nationwide were based on one-witness identifications.
“Many of those (wrongful) convictions stemmed from one-witness identifications,” Swanson said. “We don’t have a policy on that in this office, but if the only evidence we have of a perpetrator is a one-witness identification, we probably aren’t moving forward. We’re looking for something else.”
“We don’t have it written, but typically, we aren’t gonna.”
The District Attorney did say, statistically, that only a small percentage of convictions throughout history were wrongful convictions.
Swanson said Oneida County (Ny.) District Attorney Scott McNamara has a policy which states that if there’s only a one-witness identification and that witness doesn’t know the accused, his office won’t go forward.
“Most prosecutors, in today’s world, aren’t going to push on a case if that’s the evidence they have,” Swanson said. “That, with DNA, and technology where it is, and other evidence that’s available now that wasn’t available back when a lot of these cases of people being exonerated (from false convictions) occurred, I’d be comfortable asserting they (false convictions) aren’t happening as frequently.”
Swanson said that the U.S. Criminal Justice System, even with its imperfections, is “probably” the best worldwide.
Swanson detailed how a Maryland man falsely convicted of raping and murdering a nine-year-old spent over eight years on death row before being exonerated as another suspect was convicted off of DNA evidence. The man spoke at a conference in Salt Lake City (Ut.) that Swanson attended last week.
“You sit in that room, and you look around at all the prosecutors there, and you realize, there’s nobody in this room that wants this to happen on their watch. Not one of us,” Swanson said. “We’re doing everything we can everyday to ensure that we’re getting the right people.”
“I didn’t have that view when I was a defense lawyer to be honest with you. When I was a defense lawyer, I viewed prosecutors as just people trying to beat me. In retrospect, the people I handled cases against, I don’t see that.”
Swanson said the main goal of his office is to find justice in every case they have.
“One of the reasons why I’m asking for an additional prosecutor is because that pursuit of justice is more difficult when you’re overburdened by cases,” Swanson said. “That pursuit of justice sometimes means that person we charge is not the right person, and sometimes it is the right person, but that doesn’t matter in our analysis.”
“Our analysis is we’re seeking justice, and when the caseload is what it is right now, that pursuit is hindered in someway just by time restrictions and resource restrictions, and that’s what I’ll be talking to the Legislature this week.”
The Chautauqua County Legislature and its subcommittees will be meeting with different department heads throughout the week to discuss their department’s budget requests as part of County Executive George Borrello’s tentative 2019 budget.