Innocence Project & stakeholders applaud New Hampshire AG and Association of Chiefs of Police for policy that contains scientifically supported best practices
(Concord, NH –
June 1, 2015) The Innocence Project, the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police, and other stakeholders joined representatives from New Hampshire Attorney General Joseph Foster’s office today at a press conference to announce a new model eyewitness identification policy. The best practices in the model policy have been scientifically proven to reduce the likelihood of misidentification, the leading contributing factor to wrongful convictions, playing a role in 72 percent of the 329 DNA exonerations nationally. These best practices are recommended by the National Academy of Sciences, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the Innocence Project and many other organizations.
“Attorney General Foster is pleased to put forth a scientifically supported model eyewitness identification policy that will reduce or eliminate factors that can undermine reliability and accuracy, thus producing more reliable eyewitness evidence,” said Deputy Attorney General Ann Rice. “Eyewitness identification evidence is an important law enforcement tool, but because of the fallibility of human memory and recognized problems with commonly used procedures, this office decided to publish a model policy it feels will equip law enforcement with the best practices necessary to protect against misidentification.”
The attorney general’s model policy contains step-by-step instructions for conducting a number of eyewitness identification practices. Of particular importance is that the model policy contains several core best practices, namely:
- Blind administration of photo and live lineups – The officer conducting a photo or live lineup does not know the identity of the suspect, or cannot see which photo the eyewitness is viewing, through a practice known as the folder shuffle. This prevents any unintentional cues, which might prompt an incorrect identification.
- Fillers – There should be at least five fillers, and no filler should stand out; the fillers should all resemble the witness’ original description of the offender.
- Instructions – The eyewitness should be instructed that the suspect may or may not be in the lineup and that the investigation will continue regardless of whether a selection is made; this way the eyewitness does not feel pressured to make a selection.
- Confidence statement – If the eyewitness does make a selection, the officer shall write down a verbatim confidence statement immediately after the identification is made. This will help investigators and juries determine the level of the eyewitness’ confidence.
Attorney General Foster and the Association of Chiefs of Police worked collaboratively to publish the new eyewitness identification model policy and should be applauded for their commitment to justice and desire to protect all New Hampshire residents from the dangers of wrongful conviction. In New England, many states have also embraced eyewitness identification practices, among them Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont and Massachusetts, making the region a leader in these critical efforts to improve investigations. Nationally, 13 states have adopted eyewitness identification reform, through legislation or court action, and this number is steadily growing.
“I applaud Attorney General Foster and the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police for issuing this excellent model policy. New Hampshire is demonstrating its deep commitment to justice, to public safety and to the integrity of the system by endorsing the steps necessary to avoid misidentification. After all, New Hampshire has a clear record of valuing the life and liberty of the individual, and there is nothing that violates that so profoundly as a wrongful conviction,” said Amshula Jayaram, State Policy Advocate for the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law..
“No police department wants to contribute to a wrongful conviction; these best practices will help reduce the likelihood that anything like that will occur in the future. As law enforcement, we are committed to using the best investigative tools out there and to making sure that we get the right guy.” said Richard Crate, Chief of Enfield Police Department and President of the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police.
“The best practices in this model policy are the absolute best way to reduce the likelihood of misidentification, the leading contributor of wrongful conviction. I look forward to lending support in a training and implementation capacity and urge all law enforcement agencies to embrace these important reforms,” said Bill Brooks, Chief of Norwood, Mass. Police Department. Chief Brooks is a national expert on eyewitness identification and will be leading training sessions for New Hampshire police departments.
“By embracing scientifically supported eyewitness identification practices, New Hampshire has taken a major step in working to prevent the leading contributing factor to wrongful conviction – misidentification. Attorney General Foster and the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police should be applauded for working collaboratively to create this excellent model policy,” said Denise McWilliams, Executive Director of the New England Innocence Project.