Even in very serious cases, eyewitness testimony doesn’t have to be as strong as you may assume to gain a conviction for the prosecution. Thin evidence and questionable statements from people who claim to have seen something take place often can help sway a jury.
One of the most notable examples from Pennsylvania’s history is the story of Nicholas Yarris, who was convicted of murder in 1982, though he was later exonerated. DNA evidence showed that he was not the person the police were seeking in the case. One of the key pieces of “evidence” used to convict him was the fact that numerous people said he was at the shopping mall where the young woman was abducted, and he was loitering there at roughly the same time.
What stands out in retrospect is that these eyewitnesses were not saying that they saw him commit the crime. They just said he was in the area. How many other people were at the same mall? How many may have looked like Yarris? How could numerous witnesses believe that they thought they saw him and that that meant he must have done it?
Since we know from DNA evidence that he was never guilty, it’s easy to poke holes in this thin evidence. But these types of things can still happen today. The jury may believe an apparent witness who is very sure of what they saw — even if they’re wrong. That can still lead to an inaccurate verdict.
This is why it’s so very important to have proper legal defense options. All individuals have this right. If you’re facing serious charges, you must make sure you know what options you have.