According to the National Registry of Exonerations, Arkansas has exonerated five wrongfully convicted people between 1989 and 2013; eyewitness misidentification contributed to one of those cases. Taking a solid step toward preventing future misidentification cases, the Arkansas Association of Chiefs of Police, along with a host of other local police and law enforcement groups, has updated its model policy for eyewitness identification procedures. The new policy promotes the research-driven practices as recommended by the Innocence Project for decreasing the risk of eyewitness misidentifications in criminal investigations. In an opinion piece published this past Saturday in the Democrat Gazette on arkansasonline.com, the Chief of Police for the Hope Police Department in Arkansas, J.R. Wilson, explained why it will be important for law enforcement—statewide—to adopt the practices if the state wants to increase public safety and justice for the innocent.
Chief Wilson wrote:
In several cases around the nation, innocent people have spent years in prison for violent crimes, such as rape and murder, which they did not commit. While these innocent people languished behind bars, the real perpetrators remained free, and in some cases, committed other atrocities.
In the case of many wrongful convictions, misidentification played a prominent role in locking up the wrong person. . . .
. . . Since wrongful-conviction cases are often predicated on eyewitness identification, it is very important that we in law enforcement use scientifically sound identification procedures to avoid misidentification.
Victims, their extended family, society and police have a singular goal with respect to crime: correctly identify the perpetrator and present accurate evidence before the court for a just verdict. It is in the best interest of justice that police practice ensures appropriate identification to the greatest extent possible.
So what can Arkansas police do? The AACP eyewitness-identification model policy contains a few practical and simple practices. I urge all Arkansas law enforcement agencies to adopt these practices, just as my own agency is in the process of doing. . . .
. . . These practices are recommended by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the American Bar Association, the National Academy of Sciences and a range of other leading scientific, law enforcement and prosecutorial organizations.
Misidentification is an international phenomenon, and it knows no state, county or municipal border. Therefore, we urge our partners in law enforcement to adopt these practical and cost-neutral reforms to help protect all Arkansans from the dangers of wrongful conviction.
Read the entire piece here.