The Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services introduced a model policy aimed at preventing eyewitness misidentification two years ago, but only a handful of police departments have actually adopted the guidelines, reported the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Eyewitness misidentification, the single greatest cause of wrongful convictions nationwide, played a role in all but three of Virginia’s 16 wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing.
University of Virginia Law Professor Brandon Garrett, who helped write the model policy, sent surveys to the 350 law enforcement agencies across Virginia to identify which agencies have adopted the model policy. He collected results from February to April via Freedom of Information Act requests filed by University of Virginia law students.
A total of 201 agencies responded to the survey, and according to Garrett, 144 Virginia police agencies have written policies, but only nine had implemented the model policy. Nearly nine out of 10 agencies still rely on outdated policies to some extent.
“Many people have been working to improve lineups in Virginia … but so far most police agencies have not adopted the recommended best practices,” Garrett said. “If that’s not happening, then stronger measures are needed,” he said.
Lawmakers who have been reluctant to order police departments to make changes were counting on agencies to adopt the simple, low-cost recommendations.
Among the procedures that have been proven to significantly decrease the number of misidentifications is blind administration, when the officer conducting the lineup does not who the suspect is.
The full results from Garrett’s survey will appear in a forthcoming paper, “Eyewitness Identification and Police Practices: A Virginia Case Study,” to appear in the Virginia Journal of Criminal Law.
In light of the National Academy of Science’s 2014 report, “Identifying the Culprit: Assessing Eyewitness Identification,” the Innocence Project awaits further research concerning the merits of the sequential and simultaneous presentation methods.