Reforming Eyewitness Identification Procedures
Although eyewitness misidentifications are the most common element in all wrongful convictions later overturned by DNA evidence, many states and jurisdictions have been slow to reform identification procedures.
It has been a year since DNA evidence exonerated Alan Northrop and Larry Davis in Washington of rape and burglary convictions based solely on the victim’s misidentification. The two men served 17 years before being released.
Identification procedures have remained unchanged in Washington and it is not uncommon to find police departments in the rest of the country without written procedures for conducting eyewitness identification,
writes David Rosenfeld at Miller-McCune magazine
“The primary reform is blind administration of lineups,” said Rebecca Brown, the Innocence Project’s senior policy advocate for state affairs. That’s where someone who doesn’t know who the subject is conducts the lineup. “A lot of the research speaks to the fact that there are inadvertent cues that take place all the time.”
Brown said the logic is similar to drug trials, where administrators don’t know which subjects are receiving a placebo. “All we’re suggesting here is that you apply that fundamental scientific principle to the criminal justice setting,” Brown said.
And Florida Today reports
that while state law enforcement agencies are expected to form their own written policies this year, Florida still lacks a consistent standard to reduce misidentifications.
“The adoption of guidelines by law enforcement is a positive step. But these guidelines will still lead to a hodge-podge of policies from agency to agency, that will lead to uneven administration of justice,” said Innocence Project of Florida Executive Director Seth Miller. He called on the “legislature to require a uniform, statewide policy that mandates updated best practices supported by more than twenty years of sound social science, including the use of an independent administrator.”
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