Andrew Z. Giacalone
The State Legislature of Missouri must take action and reform both the way police conduct eyewitness identifications and how said evidence is ultimately presented in court, the Innocence Project’s state policy advocate Amol Sinha has urged.
In an op-ed featured in the
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
and co-authored with Tricia Bushnell, the legal director of the Midwest Innocence Project, the two authors warn that the Missouri Supreme Court’s recent failure to adopt a jury instruction that would have provided jurors in the state with guidance on factors related to misidentification means that innocent people may continue to be wrongfully convicted due to mistaken identifications.
In fact, according to Sinha and Bushnell, every wrongful conviction in Missouri that has been reversed by DNA evidence involved eyewitness misidentification.
“In all nine of these cases, eyewitnesses mistakenly identified — and courts convicted — innocent people,” they write. “Some of these innocent men spent years and even decades in jail while the real perpetrators remained free.”
As a result, the two authors are now calling on the Missouri State Legislature to take up the issue during its current legislative session and pass Senate Bill 842 aimed at governing eyewitness identification police practices.
The best practices both authors are exhorting the State Legislature to adopt have already been met with widespread support by lawyers, police and prosecutors throughout the United States and comprise a number of measures aimed at reducing the chance of wrongful conviction, including the blind administration of lineups; thorough instructions for the eyewitness designed to deter him or her from feeling compelled to make an identification; fair lineup composition; and the issuance of so-called ‘confidence statements’, or statements made by the eyewitness immediately following a lineup or photo array in which he or she articulates his or her level of confidence in the identification.
“Missouri has an opportunity to embrace science and national trends and help prevent future wrongful convictions,” conclude Sinha and Bushnell. “Twenty-five states and many localities across the country either advise or require police agencies to implement these best practices. Missouri should do the same.”