Eyewitness misidentification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions later overturned by DNA testing, yet many jurisdictions have not implemented simple reforms that are proven to increase the accuracy of lineups and other identification procedures. An editorial in the Daytona Beach News-Journal calls for Florida lawmakers to enact new procedures for law enforcement officials that would prevent misidentification.
One of the easiest, and potentially most effective, fixes involves a simple tweak to a basic police tool: the lineup. This practice — in which police actually line up a row of people, or display a set of photographs and ask a witness to identify one as the criminal — is subject to flaws, particularly when the officer administering the lineup knows who the suspect is. Even though the officer might not intend to taint witness identification, it happens, through subtle "tells" such as fleeting changes of facial expression.
The solution is to remove that officer from the lineup process, substituting another officer — one who has never seen the suspect and doesn't know who the ringers are. This procedure, called a "double-blind" lineup, is the best way to ensure that eyewitness IDs are as accurate as possible. In addition, police should take care to ensure that all subjects in a lineup are as physically similar as possible.
These two fixes are simple. They require no new technology and, because they simply substitute one officer for another, little extra police time. Moreover, they're fully supported by irrefutable research. Witnesses tend to trust their eyes, but by now police and lawmakers should know better.
What is your state doing to improve eyewitness identification procedures?
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Read a guest post from the Eyewitness Identification Reform Blog on a proposed eyewitness reform bill in Georgia