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Sarah Solon

Eyewitness ID Reform Bill on Track in New Mexico

Cross-Posted from TalkLeft.

(DMI Fellow Ezekiel Edwards is now working as the Staff Attorney/Mayer Brown Eyewitness Fellow at the Innocence Project, and contributed to the letter described in this post.)

By Jeralyn, Section Crime Policy
Posted on Mon Feb 05, 2007 at 07:11:00 AM EST

Mistaken eyewitness identification is the largest cause of wrongful convictions. New Mexico has a bill pending that would greatly reduce the chances of misidentification. A hearing is scheduled today on the bill.

Under the proposed regulations, an eyewitness must provide a written description before a lineup takes place; there must be at least six individuals in a live lineup and 10 photos in a photographic line-up; and the members of the lineup must be shown sequentially rather than simultaneously.

The bill would also restrict the amount of time in which law enforcement could bring a suspect by for a physical identification by a victim or witness to within one hour after the crime was reported. Anything beyond one hour would require a lineup with multiple photos or people....

Innocence Project co-director Barry Scheck explains in this letter (pdf) why the bill is so critical to justice.

The bill is Senate Bill 5. You can read the text here.

The key features are these:

* Conducting lineups double-blind (where the person administering the lineup does not know who the suspect is and therefore cannot give incidental cues to the witness)

* Selecting lineup fillers according to the witness's description of the perpetrator as opposed to based on their similarity to the police suspect, thereby lessening the chances that the suspect will stand out

* Instructing the witness before the identification procedure that the perpetrator may not be present in the lineup, not to feel compelled to make an identification, and that the investigation will continue regardless of whether or not the witness makes an identification

* Ensuring that witnesses document, in their own words, their degree of confidence in their identification

* Creating an audio and visual recording of the eyewitness procedure

As Barry says,

It's not complicated: mandating reform in eyewitness identification procedures is a win-win situation, resulting in fewer innocent people being sent to prison, more guilty people getting caught, and our communities becoming safer.

For years, Democrats and Republicans alike have embraced policies that are tough on crime. Now it is time they get smart about crime, too. In light of the daunting number of wrongful convictions caused by erroneous eyewitness identifications, along with the copious scientific research documenting the factors that enhance its error rate, our leaders must prioritize aggressive reform of police procedures in this arena. Supporting bills like New Mexico Senate Bill 5 is a good place to start.

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson wants to be the Democrats' nominee for President. A good way for him to begin the journey would be to endorse Senate Bill 5 and show he values justice and is willing to be smart, not tough, on crime.

Sarah Solon: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 10:37 AM, Feb 05, 2007 in Criminal Justice
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