Thursday, February 08, 2007

New Mexico considers needed eyewitness reforms

We need legislation like this filed in Texas before the March 9 deadline.

Via Bruce Schneier, (where as always the comments are excellent, including to one that pointed to this article on creation of false memories), I was happy to see our neighbors to the west in New Mexico are pushing for reforms in eyewitness identification procedures used by police investigators to ensure greater accuracy. Wrote Schneier:

According to this article, "Mistaken eyewitness identification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions." Given what I've been reading recently about memory and the brain, this does not surprise me at all.

New Mexico is currently debating a bill reforming eyewitness identification procedures:

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.

Those are sensible reforms that don't put additional hardships on police, although give me my druthers and I'd add that the officer who runs the lineup should not be the primary investigator nor know which person or photo is the suspect. I've long argued at Grits that these types of changes are crucial in Texas to restore confidence in the criminal justice system - especially given our experience with so many recent exonerations based on faulty eyewitness testimony, we need to do this and a whole lot more.


AlanBean said...

This is a very positive development. If the feds adopted these sensible procedures the abuse of inmate snitch testimony would be greatly curtailed.

800 pound gorilla said...

I've got a stupid question: how do they get the people for the lineup? Does it only include people with criminal histories? Is it similar to jury duty. I've been called for jury duty three times - serving once. I've never been involved in a lineup. I'm not of spectacular height or weight [for a user of harshly addictive drugs like crack or meth for example - I have a light athletic look]. Why haven't I been part of a lineup?

Anonymous said...

I always thought it was sort of unique that in the Old Testament...two eye witnesses were required...not "convict" someone of something. Seems, perhaps that somebody already knew something that we've had a bit of trouble catching up to.