On Tuesday, the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association announced the state’s first standard set of protocols relating to eyewitness identification.
The association’s best practices committee had been working since 2014 to create a standard protocol for police departments in the state. Among the adopted recommendations is “blind” administration, where the officer administering a line-up does not know the identity of the suspect.
Other recommendations include documenting the witness’ responses during lineups and advising them that the actual perpetrators may not be present in the lineup.
The policy falls short of the recommendations put forth by the National Academy of Sciences in its landmark 2014 report in that it does not require police to gauge the witness’ level of confidence in their identification with documented confidence statements.
“The reason a statement of confidence is so important is that confidence can be inflated” over time, Innocence Project Policy Director Rebecca Brown told radio station WHYY. Positive feedback can make a witness more confident in his or her identification, leading police to build a case on bad evidence.
“Unfortunately, in this area, the measure relating to capturing post-identification certainty by the witness is unscientific. Asking a witness how they recognize an individual is very different from asking the witness how confident he or she is in the identification that has been made,” Brown said.
Eyewitness misidentification is the greatest contributing factor to wrongful convictions proven by DNA testing, playing a role in more than 70% of convictions overturned through DNA testing nationwide.
Listen to the WHYY broadcast here.