News 09.02.14

West Virginia Police Agencies Possibly Delayed in Adopting Eyewitness Identification Policies

One month past the deadline West Virginia law enforcement agencies were given to fill out a survey asking whether or not they have established a written policy for witness identification procedures, only 22 percent have responded.

 

The

Charleston Gazette

reported that last year the West Virginia State Legislature directed all state police agencies to adopt written policies for eyewitness identification procedures by January 1, 2014. After that date came and went, the Innocence Project and the Law Enforcement Professional Standards Program, which is part of the Division of Justice and Community Services and oversees police training, sent a survey to all 277 police agencies in West Virginia asking whether they had complied.

 

Of West Virginia’s six DNA exonerations, eyewitness misidentification was a factor in five. The Innocence Project wants to improve witness identification practices to prevent future wrongful convictions. The bill that was passed during the last session included best practices that agencies are encouraged to adopt. Innocence Project Director of State Policy Reform Rebecca and State Policy Advocate Michelle Feldman hope other agencies recognize the benefits on their own, without the Legislature mandating specifically what should be contained in written policies.

 

“We always say we just want to see adoption of best practices,” Brown said, according to the

Gazette

. “However, at a certain point if it becomes clear the volunteer adoption mechanism simply is not working, there could be a role for the Legislature.”

 

Among the recommended practices are letting witnesses know that an alleged perpetrator may or may not be present in a lineup and that they are not required to make an identification. Additionally, it is suggested that the police officer administering a photo or live lineup is not aware of who the suspect is. The law recommends that live or photo lineups be presented to the witness one by one and that at least four “fillers,” or random photos of people, be used in lineups and that a witness should make a statement of confidence at the time of the identification.

 

The Innocence Project has offered in-state training sessions and sent model policies, in addition to policy-writing guides and links to training videos, with the surveys.

 

“It’s also to protect the police because the defense will challenge them in court and say, ‘Why aren’t you using these best practices?’ So really it’s a benefit to both law enforcement and innocent people,” Feldman said, as reported in the

Gazette

.

 


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