Thursday, March 31, 2011

House approves eyewitness ID reform

The Texas House yesterday approved eyewitness ID reform legislation carried by House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee Chairman Pete Gallego. Now the bill goes to the Senate, which itself has already approved similar legislation. See initial MSM coverage:
Several of the stories emphasize that the legislation has no "teeth" for enforcement purposes, which is true enough, and certainly it would be a mistake to assume this will "solve" the problem of misidentifications. But the bill does require local agencies to have written policies governing eyewitness identification procedures (88% don't have one) and a model policy promoting best practices will be developed by a law enforcement training institute at Sam Houston State.

While I'd much prefer the legislation included a jury instruction when departments don't follow their own policies, I don't see that shortcoming as completely mitigating the bill's import. The fact is, only a tiny percentage of cases ever go to trial, and fewer still are heard by a jury, so it's more important for preventing false convictions to reduce errors on the front end than to try to rectify them at trial. Once departments have policies in place and begin training on them, most lineups will tend to follow best practices simply because police departments are bureaucracies and that's how bureaucracies work. Would it be stronger if exceptions were somehow punished or following the model policy were mandatory? Sure! But the larger goal is to change police culture and practice surrounding how this important evidence is gathered, and on that front this bill takes a big first step.


Paul UK said...

Hello from the UK here. Eyewitness evidence came under scrutiny years ago here in the United Kingdom. As a result the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) 1984 which laid down conditions for searches, arrests and detention of suspects. It also included for setting of codes of practices for these PACE code D gives the code of practice for Identification of suspects.

Anonymous said...

Could there also be a jury instruction that the identification of the suspect WAS reliable if the officers followed the approved policy? Just wondering.