The Baltimore Police Department will soon implement identification reforms in an effort to avoid cases of mistaken identity according to the city’s police commissioner Anthony Batts. At a panel discussion at the University of Baltimore Law School, Batts cited research that shows current techniques can lead to mistakes. Baltimore joins a host of other jurisdictions, including Denver and Dallas, where law enforcement has voluntarily adopted thees reforms.
Planned reforms include showing witnesses photos one at a time, as opposed to the traditional lineup, which presents a handful of photos at once. Innocence Project Director of State Policy Reform Rebecca Brown discussed how presenting pictures sequentially rather than simultaneously decreases the rate at which innocent people are identified. Research demonstrates that when viewing several subjects at once, witnesses tend to choose the person who looks the most like – but may not actually be – the perpetrator.
State’s Attorney Gregg L. Bernstein, who participated in the panel, spoke about the importance of getting a correct identification since eyewitness testimony is often the most powerful element at trial. The
“If you have a case in which your only evidence … is one witness identifying a stranger … I think you have to be very very careful about that kind of case,” he said. “When you have that kind of situation … you need to really look hard and make sure you have corroborating evidence.”