Thursday, May 08, 2008

Dallas prosecutor backs shift to 'double-blind' lineups

I'd missed the outstanding news, found via the Eyewitness ID Blog, that Dallas prosecutor Mike Ware (who's spearheading DA Craig Watkins efforts along with the Innocence Project of Texas to identify and reverse wrongful past convictions) now wants to make double blind photo lineups mandatory. That's a major development, and my hope is that many other prosecutors and law enforcement agencies will follow in their footsteps. According to the Eyewitness ID blog:
Ware is now publicly embracing the importance of mandatory double-blind lineup procedures for photo arrays, which is an important and significant development, at least to my knowledge. As we reported previously, Dallas County has been laying the groundwork for a field study on police lineups in a purported attempt to develop more reliable procedures, and until now there appeared to be reason for concern that the study would replicate the fundamentally flawed methodology of the now-infamous Illinois/Mecklenburg study that turned out to be little more than a rubber-stamping of the flawed status quo procedures that continue to cause innocent people to be put in prison.

Now, Mr. Ware is on record stressing the importance of double-blind procedures, which all social scientists (and reformers) have long agreed must be a component of any standard lineup procedure that hopes to reduce wrongful convictions. Presumably this means that the Dallas study won’t repeat the futile endeavor of “testing” blind procedures against non-blind procedures, as was done in Illinois under the guidance of Sheri Mecklenburg, with the number of suspect picks as the measure of “reliability.”

This is big news on the eyewitness ID reform front. We’ll try to stay on top of this as more information on the Dallas field study begins to surface.

Ware's comments came in reaction to the exoneration of Thomas McGowan, in which, the Dallas News reported (April 15):

What is remarkable about Mr. McGowan's case, according to one of his defense attorneys, is the ordinariness of the process that ultimately branded him a rapist.

Richardson police obtained his photograph from a traffic arrest two days after the rape. Out of seven total pictures, Mr. McGowan's color photo was placed in an array that contained three other color originals. A fifth photo was black and white. The remaining two were black-and-white photocopies of photographs.

When the 19-year-old victim tentatively picked Mr. McGowan's picture, she said Richardson Detective Mike Corley told her, "I had to make a positive ID. I had to say yes or no."

Barry Scheck, whose New York-based Innocence Project has worked for the last year to free Mr. McGowan, said the detective's remarks were a routine police practice that the U.S. Justice Department has discredited as improperly suggestive.

By not allowing the victim to describe her certainty in her own words, Mr. Scheck contended, Detective Corley implied Mr. McGowan was the attacker.

"I have no doubt that the officer wasn't trying to do anything wrong here," Mr. Scheck said. "It's just a terrible, bad practice."

Dallas County prosecutor Mike Ware, who oversees the conviction integrity unit, said Tuesday that problems with photo lineups are "a common thread that runs through almost all of the wrongful conviction we've run across."

Victims are going to compare photos and will typically pick the one which most looks like the perpetrator. There is no protocol within individual police departments for how to conduct lineups, Mr. Ware said.

There's little doubt in my mind that Texas could prevent a significant percentage of false convictions by mandating best practices for eyewitness IDs that are already widely used in other jurisdictions: E.g., double-blind procedures, showing photos sequentially instead of as a group, and requiring the neutral lineup administrator to advise witnesses that the perpetrator may not be in the photo array.

RELATED: Craig Watkins, Mike Ware, Innocence Project of Texas Jeff Blackburn, numerous recent exonerees, and others involved with this issue will participate in an "innocence summit" this afternoon from 1-4 p.m. in the Texas Senate chambers. I'm planning to attend, but if you can't make it you can still watch the proceedings here online once they begin. See also several press releases from state Sen. Rodney Ellis regarding today's event and recent exonerations.

1 comment:

Murray Newman said...

My personal opinion is that there is absolutely no articuable reason to NOT shift to double-blind line ups as a policy in investigations.