Spotlight on Eyewitness ID Reform
It has been only a few weeks since the National Academy of Sciences (NAS)
released its landmark report
on eyewitness identification reform
(Identifying the Culprit)
, and already there has been a significant amount of media attention paid to it. Over a dozen stories have appeared in national and local publications about the importance of the report’s findings and, in several states, the need for policy changes that reflect the best practices that the NAS recommends for law enforcement and courts, all of which comport with the Innocence Project’s reform agenda.
article described the significance of the report as such:
“[T]he National Academy of Sciences … released the first comprehensive report to review decades of literature on lineups while offering sweeping recommendations on how they should be conducted.”
And referring to the NAS’ best-practices recommendations for law enforcement and courts, an article in
The Washington Pos
t notes that many traditional eyewitness identification practices are “flawed and subject to suggestion” and that “courts should go out of their way to make sure that eyewitnesses have been vetted and their testimony has been properly elicited.”
In order to reduce the chances of eyewitness misidentification, the NAS report recommends that law enforcement train all officers in eyewitness identification, implement double-blind lineup or blind photo array procedures, develop and use standardized witness instructions, document witness confidence statements and videotape the entire witness identification process. Additionally, the report advises courts, when considering the admissibility of eyewitness evidence, to conduct a pre-trial judicial inquiry, make juries aware of prior identifications, allow defendants to call experts on memory and identification and use jury instructions as an alternative means to convey information.
Local newspapers in multiple states called for immediate policy changes.
writes: “Florida Department of Law Enforcement doesn’t require either of the identification practices (blind administration of lineups, confidence statements) mentioned here. The department and local agencies should implement these simple reforms. Not only will they prevent innocent people from being put behind bars, they will help ensure the real perpetrators aren’t left on the streets.”
An editorial in the
notes that the NAS’ recommendations and the state of eyewitness identification practices in Virginia “urgently calls for reform.”
Additionally, stories in a number of local publications and outlets such as
(Minneapolis-St. Paul), the
Idaho Press Tribune
and numerous others document both the need for eyewitness identification reforms, as well as the policy efforts that are underway in those areas.
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