By Nick Moroni, Michelle Feldman
As Nebraska’s 2016 legislative session approaches, a state lawmaker announced this week in the
her intent to file legislation that would address eyewitness misidentification, the leading contributing factor to the wrongful convictions of people exonerated by DNA testing in the United States, by requiring law enforcement to adopt evidence-based practices.
The planned legislation, sponsored by Senator Patty Pansing Brooks, follows a year-long effort by law enforcement to voluntarily adopt and provide training on best practices. According to the attorney general’s office, 60 percent of law enforcement agencies in the state have reported adopting policies with key eyewitness identification reforms. This legislation will guarantee that all law enforcement agencies across the state use scientifically based policies, ensuring uniformity in practice and the fair administration of justice throughout Nebraska.
Senator Pansing Brooks told the
that the proposed legislation aims not just to protect the innocent from the well-documented perils of misidentification, but also to strengthen public safety; after all, if an innocent person is behind bars, a real perpetrator or perpetrators could remain on the street to harm other Nebraskans.
Last year the League of Nebraska Municipalities, the Nebraska Crime Commission, the Police Chiefs Association of Nebraska, the Nebraska Sheriffs’ Association and the Police Officers Association of Nebraska endorsed a statewide model policy that included the following evidence-based practices: blind or blinded administration of lineups, witness instructions that the perpetrator may or may not be in the lineup and solicitation of witness confidence statements in which witnesses are asked to state their level of certainty in their identifications. Senator Pansing Brooks legislation would mandate those practices. These agencies also joined the Innocence Project in hosting two trainings on eyewitness identification in the state last year, which were led by eyewitness identification expert William Brooks, chief of the Norwood, Massachusetts Police Department.
Across the nation, 25 states and many localities either require or encourage the use of eyewitness identification best practices. This important legislation is the next step in the effort to bring about statewide adoption of eyewitness identification reform in Nebraska and should be swiftly passed.