Thursday, July 7, 2011

A positive step in Texas

I saw this good news out of Texas today, so I thought I would share. The state of Texas has now officially changed the way it handles photo line-ups in an effort to minimize the possibility of wrongful identifications. With the DNA exonerations, we learned a lot about the main factors that contribute to wrongful convictions. One factor that surprised a lot of people was eyewitness identifications. A large number of exoneration cases included eyewitnesses who identified the exoneree as the perpetrator.

For some time now, people interested in criminal justice reforms have been suggesting these changes to the way photo line-ups are conducted. They're simple suggestions that should be easy enough to implement. Have the person administering the line-up not know who the suspect is. Thus, the officer can't inadvertently or subconsciously guide the witness to picking the suspect. Show the witness only one photo at a time rather than six at once. This way the witness isn't comparing the suspects to each other. And make sure to tell the witness that the actual perpetrator might not be pictured. Just as a reminder to the witness that it's ok to pick no one.

I'll be interested to see how Texas police respond to these new procedures and to see more long-term research to see if these reforms do reduce rates of wrongful identifications. Since we know that the old ways don't really work as well as we wanted to believe, these reforms sure can't hurt.

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