California Exonerations Prove Need for Eyewitness Identification Reform
A recent article in the
Orange County Register
by Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Maurice Possley highlights the county’s resistance to eyewitness identification reforms despite a history of wrongful convictions based on eyewitness misidentification. After decades of social science research demonstrating the fallibility of eyewitness evidence, and 35 California exonerations that involved eyewitness misidentification statewide, Orange County’s eyewitness identification procedures have yet to be improved.
While several states and jurisdictions have adopted best practices to ensure the integrity of identifications, police departments throughout California including Orange County are still largely using outdated practices that could adversely affect identifications. The Northern California Innocence Project conducted a survey two years ago of eyewitness identification procedures in law enforcement offices throughout the state. Possley writes:
Maitreya Badami, an attorney at NCIP who oversaw the survey, said that not a single law-enforcement agency in Orange County reported that best practices for eyewitness identification were part of their procedures. Since then, Badami says, San Francisco police adopted the best practices (in January 2012) and law enforcement officials in Alameda County, which includes the Oakland police department, are considering adopting the procedures. Los Angeles police have not adopted the procedures, she said. A Register survey this month of the seven police departments involved in the nine wrongful conviction cases shows that only Buena Park has since adopted the double-blind and sequential practices.
Police departments that have adopted the reforms, such as San Francisco, Dallas, Boston and many others, have not gone back. According to the Buena Park department, the only one of the Orange County departments to adopt best practices:
Buena Park’s police training coordinator, Corporal Andy Luong, said his department adopted the new procedures in September. “It made a lot of sense to us,” he said. “It made the process a lot cleaner and we believe it maintains the integrity of the cases and there is less chance of a case being tainted.”
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