Innocence Project Commends Critical Step to Prevent Wrongful Convictions and Ensure the Capture of Real Perpetrators of Crimes
Contact: Paul Cates, 212-364-5346, [email protected]
(Washington, D.C. – January 6, 2017) Today Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates issued a memo to federal law enforcement agencies and prosecutors recommending that all departments adopt eyewitness identification procedures that have been scientifically proven to reduce misidentification. The recommendations include those from a 2014 National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report that reviewed three decades of basic and applied scientific research on eyewitness identification as well as recommendations included in President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. The Innocence Project has long advocated for these eyewitness identification best practices as a way to prevent eyewitness misidentifications, which have contributed to 70 percent of the wrongful convictions later overturned by DNA evidence in the United States.
“We applaud Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates for taking such a critical stance to prevent wrongful convictions,” said Peter Neufeld, co-director of the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law. “The recommendations she has made to all federal law enforcement agencies and prosecutors are based on the best science on memory and identification and will go a long way toward preventing injustice and ensuring that the real perpetrators of crimes are identified.”
The recommendations to federal law enforcement agencies include:
- The officer administering the identification procedure should be unaware of the identity of the suspect so that he or she can’t intentionally or unintentionally influence the witness;
- The witness should be told that the perpetrator may or may not be present in the
procedure and that the investigation will continue regardless of whether he or she selects a suspect;
- Photos should resemble the witness’s description of the perpetrator; and
- Immediately following the procedure, the witness should be asked to describe in his or her own words how confident he or she is in the identification.
The recommendations apply to all federal law enforcement agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, United States Marshals Service, Federal Bureau of Prisons, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Drug Enforcement Administration and the Office of the Inspector General. Nineteen states have already adopted these best practices through law, policy or court action, and many jurisdictions around the country have voluntarily adopted policies embracing these practices.
“By making these important recommendations, the Department of Justice has recognized the value of evidence-based practices which will improve the quality of evidence and protect the innocent. This is a step forward in a sea change that we have observed at the state level. Just four years ago, only 7 states had implemented best practices in this area; today, that number has nearly tripled to 19 states,” said Rebecca Brown, Innocence Project policy director. “This is also reflective of leadership in the law enforcement community, from the International Association of Chiefs of Police’s Model Policy on Eyewitness Identification, which was issued in 2010, to the recommendations of the President’s Task Force of 21st Century Policing just this year, which called for implementation of scientifically supported procedures and specifically highlighted the recommendations of the NAS Report.”
According to the Innocence Project, eyewitness misidentification contributed to 70 percent of the 347 wrongful convictions that were later overturned by DNA evidence. The real perpetrators were eventually identified in 98 (40 percent) of these cases. While the innocent were languishing behind bars in these cases, the real perpetrators committed an additional 100 violent crimes.