Innocence Project Lauds Colorado’s Enactment of Eyewitness ID Reform
Gov. Hickenlooper signs bill that will ensure police departments use scientifically supported eyewitness ID practices
(Denver, Colo – April 17, 2015) – Gov. John Hickenlooper yesterday signed into law bipartisan legislation (SB 15-058) that will require all Colorado law enforcement agencies to implement eyewitness identification policies that have been scientifically proven to reduce the chances of misidentification. Eyewitness misidentification is the leading contributor to wrongful conviction, nationally, playing a role in 72 percent of such cases overturned by DNA evidence. SB 15-058 would mandate eyewitness ID policies that are recommended by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the Colorado Best Practices Committee and a diverse array of other law enforcement, prosecutorial and criminal justice organizations.
“This is truly a momentous occasion, and Colorado should be proud that it acted to protect its citizenry from misidentification and the dangers of wrongful conviction. I want to thank Gov. Hickenlooper for signing this important legislation, members of the legislature for passing this bill, and the members of the Best Practices Committee who took a leadership role in tackling this important issue,” said Amshula Jayaram, Innocence Project state policy advocate.
I am proud to sign this important public safety legislation. This bill
is a step toward ensuring
law enforcement uses
the best available practices as they protect the public and conduct eye witness identifications,” said Gov. Hickenlooper.
SB-15-058, sponsored by Sen. Lucia Guzman in the Senate and Rep. Daniel Kagan in the House, is the result of a year-long collaboration between key stakeholders in the Colorado criminal justice system. In 2014, the Colorado Best Practices Committee, a group led by the Colorado Attorney General and the Colorado District Attorney’s Council, convened to study decades of social science research around eyewitness identification. The Committee engaged with law enforcement, the Criminal Defense Bar and the Innocence Project to understand the impact of misidentification and identify the most effective solutions. Based on this research and dialogue, the Committee then released a model policy which formed the basis for SB 15-058. The recommendations in that model policy were also endorsed by the NAS last year in the most comprehensive report to date on eyewitness ID.
SB 15-058 would require the following best practices:
– Research shows that the risk of misidentification is sharply reduced if the police officer administering a photo or live lineup is not aware of who the suspect is. This prevents the witness from picking up intentional or unintentional clues from the officer conducting the lineup.
– Immediately following a lineup, the eyewitness should be asked to describe in his or her own words how confident he or she is in the identification. As the report notes, the level of confidence a witness expresses at the time of trial is not a reliable predictor of accuracy. Having the witness describe their level of confidence at the time an identification is made will provide investigators and juries with a useful tool for judging the accuracy of the identification.
– The person viewing the lineup should be told that the perpetrator may not be in the lineup and that the investigation will continue regardless of whether the witness identifies a suspect.
Colorado joins 11 other states that have adopted uniform, statewide eyewitness identification best practices. The best practices aim to protect against misidentification and wrongful conviction, which not only results in an innocent person being imprisoned but the chilling possibility of a real perpetrator remaining free to commit additional crimes. Nationally, misidentification played a role in 72 percent of the 329 DNA exoneration cases. In the 236 cases that involved eyewitness misidentification, there were 360 victims. In the time that they went undetected, the real perpetrators went on to commit 64 rapes, 17 murders and 21 other violent crimes.
“Protecting the innocent is essential to a sound criminal justice system. This bill helps ensure that mistaken identifications do not lead to innocent people going to prison,” said Rep. Kagan.
“This legislation is the product of the hard work and collaboration of the Colorado Best Practices Committee, the Colorado Defense Bar and the Innocence Project. I, and all the Best Practices committee members, are honored to have been part of this effort, which took into account the needs of the public, prosecutors, law enforcement and the defense community, and ultimately adopted a model policy that will better serve everybody. I am confident that these partnerships will continue to serve us in preserving justice,” said Tom Raynes, Executive Director of the Colorado District Attorneys Council.”
“These best practices are supported by decades of social science research and are the best available tools to protect against misidentification. Colorado took a huge step today by mandating the safeguards that are necessary to prevent wrongful conviction, and for that, we should all be happy,” said Maureen Cain, defense attorney and lobbyist for the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar.
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