Police Lineups Can Lead To Wrongful Convictions. Here’s How Some Agencies Are Trying To Fix That.

After practically 38 years, on Jan. 30 Malcolm Alexander walked away from a spot he by no means ought to have been to start with: the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.

Earlier that day, a Jefferson Parish choose had tossed out Alexander’s conviction, partly in response to new DNA proof proving that Alexander couldn’t have been the armed man who in 1979 raped a 39-year-old lady in her vintage store rest room.

Twenty-one when he was sentenced to life with out parole, Alexander had been the sufferer of what the Innocence Project described as “a deeply flawed, unreliable identification procedure.”

The Innocence Project, whose advocacy led to Alexander’s launch at age 58, stated the issues included interactions with cops that strengthened the sufferer’s preliminary “tentative” identification of Alexander in a police lineup into considered one of certainty by the point she testified on the trial practically a 12 months later.

Alexander’s wrongful conviction helped persuade Louisiana lawmakers to hitch a rising listing of states in taking steps to forestall eyewitnesses from being swayed by police or different influences. Among the modifications Louisiana enacted earlier this 12 months is requiring police to make use of “double-blind” lineups, through which the officer conducting the lineup doesn’t know who the suspect is. Other modifications are supposed to cut back the prospect that witnesses will make identifications by way of guesswork or deduction or to please police investigators. 

Although analysis has lengthy demonstrated the unreliability of eyewitness identifications, police companies largely resisted making modifications till DNA exonerations over the previous three many years introduced incontrovertible proof that the unsuitable particular person had been convicted, as was the case with Alexander.

The new insurance policies, which have been adopted by police in half the states, largely grew out of analysis exhibiting that conventional police practices and cues typically induced witnesses to determine the unsuitable suspect.

While some police organizations resisted the brand new insurance policies, calling them impractical and probably pricey, many police departments, together with these in Minneapolis and San Diego, adopted new eyewitness procedures with out ready for laws.

“There’s no question, we just didn’t know any better back then,” stated William Brooks, chief of the Norwood (Massachusetts) Police Department and a member of the board of the International Association of Chiefs of Police who has traveled extensively across the nation to talk in favor of the modifications.

The new insurance policies don’t handle a long-noted weak spot in eyewitness identification: Eyewitnesses usually tend to misidentify somebody of a race apart from their very own. Though judges typically instruct juries about the issue with cross-racial eyewitness identifications, nobody has found out find out how to clear up the issue.

“The goal,” stated Rebecca Brown, coverage director on the Innocence Project, “isn’t to pick someone, but to pick the right person.”

‘Not a Tape Recording’

Researchers have been chronicling the inaccuracy of eyewitness identification not less than way back to the 1930s. One theme within the scholarship is that reminiscence is just not mounted. In the phrases of Brian Cutler, a distinguished researcher into eyewitness identification on the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, reminiscence is “not like a tape recording.”

Often, witnesses don’t bear in mind occasions as they have been. Their reminiscences might be influenced by later stimuli, reminiscent of police physique language throughout the lineup.

University of Alberta psychologist Gary Wells carried out a radical overview of the analysis on eyewitness testimony. In 1978, he printed a seminal paper that confirmed the methods through which witness identification might be influenced by such elements as the best way a police lineup is carried out, the directions given to a witness, and the conduct of officers in entrance of a witness.

At the time, Wells and fellow researchers within the area tried to get the eye of regulation enforcement. It didn’t go effectively.

“We were largely ignored in the legal system,” stated Wells, who’s now at Iowa State University. Then, Wells stated, it was the uncommon police division that even had formal procedures for conducting eyewitness identifications. Lineups have been carried out in another way from police division to police division, and even from investigator to investigator inside the identical division.

Even as scholarship continued to hammer away on the fallacy of reminiscence in identification, police procedures remained largely the identical over the following decade. The first U.S. exoneration by DNA proof got here in 1989, and the Innocence Project was based in 1992. It has been particularly distinguished in utilizing DNA to exonerate a whole lot of individuals serving prolonged jail sentences.

The Innocence Project discovered that eyewitness misidentifications have been a consider 71 % of the greater than 350 wrongful convictions overturned by post-conviction DNA.

Another group that tracks wrongful convictions, the National Registry of Exonerations, which is run collectively by the University of California at Irvine and regulation faculties on the University of Michigan and Michigan State University, discovered that mistaken identifications have been a consider 29 % of two,245 exonerations since 1989.

The registry contains circumstances that don’t contain DNA proof and surveys a broader class of crimes than the Innocence Project, whose listing of exonerations is closely weighted towards homicides and intercourse crimes.

Janet Reno, the U.S. lawyer normal below President Bill Clinton, summoned Wells to Washington within the late ’90s to debate his work. She appointed a job drive that beneficial a collection of modifications to police identification procedures. Wells traveled the nation to police forces attempting to promote the reforms. “It had almost no effect on anyone,” he stated.

The downside, Wells stated, is that the majority U.S. police companies are native — unbiased of state and federal companies. Few are interested by being advised find out how to run their legal investigations.

New Jersey is completely different. Unlike different states, it has a unified, built-in regulation enforcement system. The state lawyer normal can also be the chief regulation enforcement officer. Two many years in the past, then-Attorney General John Farmer was upset by the revelation, based mostly on DNA proof, New Jersey man was wrongfully convicted of a 1992 rape after the sufferer misidentified him as her assailant. 

Farmer in 2001 ordered police departments within the state to undertake new procedures for conducting lineups. Those necessities mirrored suggestions from the Reno fee, the National Academy of Sciences and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

After New Jersey, progress by the states in adopting the reforms was fitful however regular. The tempo has picked up significantly since 2014, when the National Academy of Sciences launched a report supporting the brand new insurance policies, and the Innocence Project intensified its advocacy of the modifications. A dozen states have adopted the brand new insurance policies within the final three years. Police in half the states now have the brand new insurance policies in place.

The California House despatched a invoice to the Senate earlier this 12 months. Iowa and New Mexico are anticipated to take up laws subsequent 12 months.

“The reality of witness identification is that it is one of the least-reliable pieces of evidence, and yet we put great weight on it,” stated state Sen. Scott Wiener, a Democrat and sponsor of the California invoice. “We’ve designed a system to encourage people to make inaccurate identifications, and we should have a system that does everything in its power to get accuracy.”

Louisiana state Sen. Wesley Bishop, a Democrat and a legal lawyer, stated he agreed to sponsor the invoice in his state after he was approached by the Innocence Project in New Orleans earlier than the 2018 legislative session. He stated he was additionally prompted by the exoneration of Malcolm Alexander and others who have been wrongly convicted partly due to misidentifications.

Bishop recalled in an interview that his allies on the Innocence Project advised him they weren’t optimistic about passage, anticipating opposition from regulation enforcement. But Bishop had labored intently with police and prosecutors up to now, he stated, and ultimately, the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association and the Louisiana District Attorneys Association supported the invoice with out modifications.

The key change is adopting double-blind lineups, whether or not dwell or by photographs. If the witness understands the officer doesn’t know who the suspect is, Wells stated, the witness gained’t attempt to learn cues from the officer’s conduct, demeanor or phrases.

The witness must be instructed that the perpetrator may not be within the lineup. Ontario’s Cutler stated that instruction is meant to alleviate the witness of feeling pressured to make an identification.

The lineup ought to embrace no multiple suspect and not less than 5 others. The so-called “fillers” ought to bear some resemblance to the perpetrator as described by the witness.

The officers presenting the lineup ought to file the extent of confidence with which the witness makes an identification.

Police departments in Santa Clara County, California, adopted the modifications 15 years in the past. They even adopted one other of Wells’ suggestions: They file video of the identification from begin to end in order that jurors can view it later.

The head of the Conviction Integrity Unit for Santa Clara, Assistant District Attorney David Angel, stated that police have been skeptical concerning the new procedures however now embrace them. He stated he’s unaware of any false identifications below the brand new insurance policies.

“The nature of science is to change as new evidence comes in,” Angel stated. “We want to make sure we change with it.”

Not all police resistance has vanished. The California Police Chiefs Association, amongst different California regulation enforcement organizations, opposes Wiener’s invoice.

Its place is that in gang-related crimes, officers develop belief with potential witnesses who might object to being handed on to unfamiliar officers for lineups. According to the affiliation, the invoice as written would make it impractical for lineups that have to be carried out within the area, when police are pursuing a legal who presents an imminent hazard to the general public.

It would additionally require recording video of the identifications and storing these video recordings, which in line with the affiliation might be too pricey for some small police departments.

Nevertheless, Jonathan Feldman, head of legislative affairs for the affiliation, stated he expects the group will have the ability to attain a compromise with Wiener. “We just haven’t gotten there yet.”

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