Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Study: 88% of Texas police and sheriffs have no written policy on eyewitness ID procedures, even fewer follow best practices

This morning at a 10:30 press conference up at the Texas state capitol, the Justice Project will unveil its new public policy report analyzing eyewitness ID procedures from Texas police departments. (UPDATE: Here's the link [pdf] to the full report including a matrix analyzing policies from 750 departments.) See preliminary coverage at the Dallas News Crime Blog, and here's the text of their press release:
New Study Documents Lack of Lineup Polices in Texas Law Enforcement Agencies

The Justice Project released today a new report documenting that only 12% of Texas law enforcement agencies have any written policies or guidelines for the conduct of photo or live lineup procedures. In addition, the few existing written procedures are often vague and incomplete. Overall, most jurisdictions in Texas fail to implement widely endorsed best practices that have been proven to increase the reliability of eyewitness evidence.

Eighty-two percent of Texas’s 38 wrongful convictions exposed by DNA testing were based largely or exclusively on incorrect eyewitness identifications. Texas currently has no statutory requirements for the conduct of eyewitness identification procedures.

To evaluate Texas law enforcement agencies’ adoption of eyewitness identification best practices, the Justice Project (TJP) requested a copy of all written policies regarding photographic and live lineups from over 1000 law enforcement agencies across the state under the Public Information Act. Scientific research has shown that eyewitness evidence, like trace physical evidence, can be tainted or ruined if not collected carefully according to scientifically informed protocols. Organizations such as The United States Department of Justice, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, and the American Bar Association have recommended best practices for the conduct of eyewitness lineup procedures. TJP evaluated existing policies in four key areas:
  • The quality of cautionary instructions provided to the eyewitness;
  • Guidelines to ensure fairness in the composition of lineups;
  • Blind administration of the lineup by an officer unaware of the identity of the suspect, or equivalent procedure for ensuring neutral lineup administration; and
  • Comprehensive documentation of the identification procedure, including witness confidence.
TJP found that only 7% or less of all departments have written policies in each of these areas in line with widely endorsed best practices designed to minimize eyewitness error. The full research report is available at

“Photo and live lineups are critical moments in police investigations,” said Edwin Colfax, director of state projects at The Justice Project. “Given the fragile nature of eyewitness evidence and its documented role in wrongful convictions, it is essential that Texas require police to adopt written policies that include key reforms for ensuring the most reliable evidence possible.”

The Justice Project is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that works to improve the fairness and accuracy of the criminal justice system. Last year TJP published “Eyewitness Identification, A Policy Review,” available at TJP is based in Washington, D.C. and opened an office in Austin, Texas in 2006.
RELATED: Unfair Park and the national Innocence Project Blog react, and KVUE has initial press coverage.

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