The incalculable price of misidentification


As Georgia lawmakers advance

compensation for Willie “Pete” Williams

, a column in today’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution calls for eyewitness identification reforms to prevent the injustice Williams suffered from happening to anyone else. The Innocence Project has worked with partners in Georgia (including the Georgia Innocence Project, which represented Williams) to support eyewitness identification reforms, but today’s column details the troubled road of this legislation and the compromises that appear necessary in order to get the bill passed.

You'd think that legislators would rush to find remedies that would at least lower the number of wrongful convictions.

You'd be wrong. So far, little has come from the efforts of Rep. Stephanie Stuckey Benfield (D-Atlanta) to improve procedures for eyewitness identifications in criminal investigations. The bill is stuck, even though all seven of the exonerated were wrongly convicted largely on the basis of faulty eyewitness identifications.

Benfield first introduced a bill to standardize eyewitness IDs two years ago, but she met fierce resistance from police and prosecutors. When the legislation was assigned to a study committee, usually a sign that a bill has little support, Benfield faithfully shepherded it through, tacking and trimming to placate critics.

Now, the bill contains just two mandates: By 2009, Georgia law enforcement agencies must develop written procedures on how to administer eyewitness identifications; and by 2011, an officer trained in those best practices must supervise eyewitness ID procedures. But Benfield's bill is still stuck in the Rules Committee, where it awaits a date for a vote on the House floor.

Read the full column here.

(Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 03/05/08)

All seven Georgia exonerees were convicted based partly on eyewitness misidentification, read more about their cases here.

Has your state enacted eyewitness reforms?

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