Monday, June 04, 2007

Double-Blind Lineups Another Milestone for New Dallas DA

The New York Times' Ralph Blumenthal profiled Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins yesterday, highlighting recent efforts to reverse and prevent wrongful convictions in that county. Blumenthal provided a stark historical perspective to this nascent shift:
It was not so long ago that Mr. Watkins would not have been picked for a Dallas County jury, much less be the person picking one.

“Do not take Jews, Negroes, Dagos, Mexicans or members of any minority race on a jury, no matter how rich or well educated,” a treatise from 1963 advised prosecutors here. The directive, unearthed by The Dallas Morning News in 1986, was cited by the United States Supreme Court that year in a celebrated decision barring peremptory challenges to remove black jurors.

Mr. Watkins said he was not looking back. “I don’t like to disparage the dead,” he said of the longtime district attorney and most recent Democrat to hold the job, Henry Wade, who reigned from 1951 to 1986. “Jim Crow was the law of the day, and he enforced it.”

Now, he said he was focusing on programs to educate prisoners and provide drug treatment in custody.

I was also happy to learn that Watkins took the lead to implement innocence reforms in Dallas even though the Legislature largely ignored the issue, particularly regarding eyewitness identification procedures at the heart of many wrongful convictions:
He tightened procedures in eyewitness identifications of criminal suspects, instituting a double-blind system requiring that lineups or photo displays be administered by prosecutors with no knowledge of the case so that they could not influence the outcome.
Good job, Mr. Watkins! I'd earlier suggested the eyewitness identification procedures would make a great inerim study for one of the Texas Legislature's criminal justice-oriented committees, and if one of them goes for it Dallas' move to double-blind lineups will provide a good model for the direction this blogger thinks they need to go.

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