Tuesday, September 11, 2012

IPOT study to grade Texas eyewitness ID policies at local police, Sheriffs

The Texas Tribune this morning published a story about a research project your correspondent is spearheading on behalf of my employers at the Innocence Project of Texas to analyze new eyewitness identification policies which Texas law enforcement agencies were supposed to adopt by September 1 of this year. The story by Brandi Grissom opened:
The Innocence Project of Texas is preparing to grade about 1,200 law enforcement departments statewide on their compliance with a law that requires police agencies to adopt eyewitness identification policies.
“Unless somebody is really grading their papers, nobody knows whether the law is really being implemented,” said Scott Henson, a policy consultant for the Innocence Project.

Last year, Texas legislators approved a measure that required police agencies to adopt policies meant to prevent faulty eyewitness identification in criminal cases. Under the law, departments were required to adopt a written policy by Sept. 1. Last week, the Innocence Project sent the departments letters requesting copies of their lineup policies.

Faulty eyewitness identifications are the leading cause of wrongful convictions, according to the New York-based Innocence Project. In 297 DNA exonerations across the nation, the Innocence Project reported, mistaken identifications contributed to 75 percent of the wrongful convictions.

In Texas, faulty eyewitness identification contributed to wrongful convictions in 40 of the 52 DNA exonerations, according to the National Registry of Exonerations.

“There’s almost nothing more powerful in a courtroom than eyewitness testimony,” Henson said.
The story quoted Assistant Chief Bryan Carlisle of the Shenandoah Police Department, "who has been traveling the state conducting training for the Texas Police Chiefs Association," declaring that “We really thought as a profession we had been doing right,” but “Now, science has caught up and said, ‘Hey, there really is a better way to do this.’” He hoped, as do I, that "what they’ll find is that most agencies are in compliance with the law."

As background, regular readers may recall that:
Legislators instructed the Law Enforcement Management Institute of Texas at Sam Houston State University to develop a model policy on eyewitness identification that departments could use as a template.

That policy sets out guidelines for conducting lineups in a way that does not suggest to witnesses whom they should select. Those guidelines are the criteria against which the Innocence Project of Texas plans to judge the policies that departments have adopted, Henson said.

Among other things, the criteria include ensuring that the person presenting the photos does not know who the suspect is, asking witnesses how confident they are that the person they identified is the same one they saw at the crime scene, giving witnesses instructions that include letting them know the perpetrator may not be among the choices presented, showing potential suspects sequentially instead of simultaneously, and choosing subjects for the lineup who have similar characteristics to one another and to the suspect described.
Texas' new law allows agencies to diverge substantially from the "model policy" when crafting their own local standards. So it's possible for departments to comply with the law but still avoid adopting best practices. The IPOT analysis will grade departmental policies based on compliance with the LEMIT model policy, weighting its components based on the most critical elements identified in the research on eyewitness identification practices. Anecdotally, many departments have welcomed LEMIT's legislatively mandated advice, while others have been more resistant. Until the policies come in and are analyzed, though, there's no way to know which how many agencies adopted key elements from the model policy and how many failed to do so.

IPOT's open records requests apparently began to hit yesterday. As of this morning, we'd already received policies from 77 departments at a dedicated email address set up for the project.

Notably, though the best practices promoted in the model policy will significantly reduce eyewitness errors, but they will not eliminate them. That's because eyewitnesses, especially when they did not know the perpetrator before the crime event, tend to make relative judgments, and one lineup member will always look more like the perpetrator than the others, even when the actual perpetrator is not in the lineup. The most comprehensive field study on the topic found that, even using best practices including sequential presentation, 12.2% of eyewitnesses chose a filler instead of the suspect. (And of course, it's impossible to say how many suspects chosen were really the wrong person.) So requiring new policies won't be a panacea, but it's an important first step toward reducing eyewitness errors and, by extension, the rate of false convictions based on them.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

When have police ever followed the law? Just like Probable Cause, cops will ignore this and find a way to have witnesses implicate those who they want to pin the crime on. After all, the Blue Wall Of Silence will tell no tales...

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Actually, from past experience, I predict the overwhelming majority of agencies will follow the law and pass some sort of policy. A larger number, though, will likely adopt policies that do not comport with the LEMIT model.

For those who don't adopt best practices laid out by LEMIT, the Court of Criminal Appeals has said that judges abuse their discretion if they don't allow (and in indigent cases, make the county pay for) expert witnesses to critique faulty eyeID procedures. It's not everything I might want, but it's not nothing and I do think it will make a difference.

Anonymous said...

Even if agencies do adopt some type of policy it won't mean that their investigators will adhere to it. And you know this, Scott. Since it won't be a reversible error, detectives will ignore the rules and do as they please. Until law enforcement officers are held personally responsible and lose the legislated protection they currently have, nothing, not one thing, will change. Cops laugh at this sort of unenforceable tripe. It only means they'll need to be more creative in securing eyewitness identification. Those gut hunches detectives seem to get when there's pressure to solve a case will always be there, and detectives will always find a way to implicate the innocent.

Vincent van Gogh said...

The studies have been done and the facts on this issue have been in for years now. Before that we knew it was true but, there was no data to prove it. Why was coming to the conclusion that lie detector results should not be admitted as evidence so easy to put in place and ID identification so hard to even call into question.

It’s sad but true. Law enforcement will not follow any guideline unless someone audits it. If the history of law enforce has taught us anything, it has taught us we must monitor our police and prosecutors closely in order to safe guard our freedoms.

Rhonda Loving said...

I am encouraged by this post hopefully it will begin to bring accountability and transparency to our justice system! I am so thankful for the inception of the Innocence Project, they have saved so many lives already!

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Hey Grits, the redneck hayseeds that I confronted on Sept. 2, 2012 said that they have no intentions of complying and doing so would require the Feds to come and make 'em.

After showing them my ten page Houston Police Department Incident Report (F-Story), all of them offered a version of: *they can't do that, what the hell, *these detectives must have had a hard on for you son, *did you represent yourself, *this was wrong then and wouldn't be allowed today. Three offered to contact the TBP&P on my behalf.

Since nothing can be done on my behalf, I do what I do on behalf of others in hopes it doesn't happen again and to gain inclusion of those left out of the seeking of justice due to the type of evidence holding the key. I thank you for doing what you do as for it will affect others for generations to come.

Please consider conducting grading / compliance on a quarterly basis. Thanks.

Thomas R. Griffith said...

*Those thinking that there is no reason to comply with judicial reforms can’t be helped here in the GFB comment section or anywhere for that matter. Those wishing to see just what the Houston Police Department got away with and what the TBP&P denied twice in my pursuit of a Full Pardon - for innocence are asked to check out the following.

Live Show - Up

1. A. W/M/19, 6', 165lbs.
2. B. W/M/17, 5'7, 130lbs.
3. C. W/M/20, 5'10, 135lbs.
4. D. W/M/31, 6' 170lbs.
5. E. W/M/27, 5'11, 165lbs.

Crime Victims' Description of Suspects:

*Robber #1 - Black Male, 20, 5'9, 140lbs., Black Straight Shoulder Length Hair & No Facial Hair, Medium Complexion, Facial Hair NONE.

My actual / factual description as shown on Texas DL.
White Male, 20, 125lbs., Brown Hair, Brown Eyes. HPD Police Photo shows light Brown Sun Streaked Collar Length Wavy Hair & a Mustache.

*Robber #2 – Black Male, 20, 6’1 to 6’2, 180lbs., Black Straight Short Hair, No Facial Hair,

Page 2.007 shows crime victim telling a detective he's Positive that #3. held a .22 or .25 black revolver with a two inch barrel.

Afterwards a second detective asked if he could recognize any others and he said, no. To try to rule out #1. he asked if he could rule him out? The crime victim looked at #1 and stated that he remembers he was in on it. He was concentrating on #3 because he had the gun and stated it was all coming back to him. Asked how sure he was, he said Almost Positive.

The second detective called DAs Intake and talked to ADA. Sgt. told him about line up and the DA stated he would take charges.

Page 2.009 shows second detective talked with victim again and about the case. In the report the suspects had Black Hair. The complainant stated the #1 suspect had Brown Hair, Straight, and Medium Long. The #2 suspect had had Blond Wavy Hair. He stated that there was a witness that saw the suspects and could ID them (report list Witnesses as NONE).

Case Cleared: Suspects Arrested And Charged.

So as you can see, I was then and still remain a victim of the system, a system that allowed white to be black, straight to be wavy, wavy to be straight and strangely allowed detectives to ignore the fact they had the wrong people and three Supervisors to review & signed off on the report. Sadly the TBP&P chose to Cover –Up the actions of HPD Robbery Detectives & ADA via: Denying Full Pardon for innocence considerations.

For the cherry on top, ADA Mr. Casey J. O'Brien was allowed to bring in a mystery gun, a black .38revolver with a 5 or 6 inch barrel to substitute for the alleged .22 or .25 with a two inch barrel and mark it as a State’s Exhibit.

The crime victim took the stand pointed and said that's him but his hair is different. The attorney my family hired, tricked me into plea bargaining at lunch recess telling me, GUILTY or NOT you are going to prison just for being on probation at time of arrest. Take the plea and get on with your life.

I could've chosen revenge over assisting in the reforming of a fixed system (LINE-UPS like above & Plea Bargain abuses)and it would've been bad for everyone.

Thanks for reading about just one of the countless humans that have been wronged and denied post conviction relief despite being in possession of ample proof of corruption that encompassed an entire system.

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