Innocence Project Policy Director Stephen Saloom wrote in op-ed Wednesday in the Orlando Sentinel on eyewitness misidentifications and the clear need for criminal lineup reform in Florida:
Everyone suffers when a witness misidentifies an innocent person as the perpetrator of a crime. The innocent person is punished for a crime he or she didn’t commit, and the real perpetrator goes free, putting us all at risk and giving the victim a false sense of security. Even if the police are ultimately able to catch the real perpetrator, the odds of getting a conviction are significantly diminished because the witness will now be perceived as unreliable for making a bad identification.
The most common element in all wrongful convictions overturned by DNA evidence has been eyewitness misidentification, contributing to 75 percent nationwide. And that holds true for Florida exonerees. Nine of the 12 people who were exonerated by DNA evidence in Florida were wrongfully convicted in part because of it.
Saloom points to proof of the inaccuracy of traditional methods and the availability of simple and inexpensive measures to reform them.
The most important component of these reforms is “double blind” administration of identification procedures. This means the officer performing the lineup or photo array does not know which person is the suspect, and the person viewing the lineup should be told the officer doesn’t know.
Sen. Joe Negron, who sits on Florida’s recently established Innocence Commission, introduced a bill that would require Florida police departments to follow the best practices for identification procedures. But there has been opposition from police officials who think the reforms would be too costly.
Resistance from law enforcement isn’t surprising. After all, police officers are being asked to change the way identification procedures have been done for decades. But experience shows that over time, most police officers come to embrace these reforms because their arrests are more secure, fewer cases will end up going to trial, and it will be easier to get convictions in the ones that do.