Thursday, May 14, 2009

Op eds support eyewitness ID bill

The Austin Statesman has an editorial today about the Austin PD's adoption of best practices for photo lineups conducted by police, encouraging the Legislature to pass SB 117 (currently in House Calendars) requiring all law enforcement agencies using them to develop written policies:

Both kinds of lineups, photo and live, lend themselves to abuse because relatively few police departments have written, updated policies about how they should be done. Often such procedures are passed along orally from one investigator to another. Bad habits are passed along with good ones. This is an antiquated, unprofessional way to do business.

Some best practices that have emerged include making sure lineups feature people with similar appearances and that the investigators conducting the lineups are unaware of a suspect's identity. The latter is important to prevent investigators from deliberately or unintentionally aiding a witness. The Legislature is poised to spread those procedures statewide with Senate Bill 117, requiring Texas police departments to develop best practices crafted by Sam Houston State University's Law Enforcement Management Institute.

It is a tragedy that Cole, a Texas Tech University student with a bright future, died in prison in 1999 while serving a 25-year sentence for a crime he did not commit. The most compelling evidence against Cole was the mistaken eyewitness identification from the rigged photo lineup.

With better, written procedures, police can decrease or prevent mistakes and errors in photo and live lineups that send innocent people to jail and permit the guilty to escape accountability.

In a similar vein, at the Fort Worth Star Telegram Bob Ray Sanders hopes the House won't spend so much time debating Voter ID that it fails"to pass, without too much tampering, other bills proposed by the Innocence Project of Texas, including one to improve eyewitness procedures as they relate to unreliable photo line-ups. The real 'ID' issue lawmakers should be dealing with is the one in criminal cases," he said.

RELATED: The House just concurred with Senate amendments this morning on HB 1736 by Anchia/Duncan which expands compensation for exonerated inmates. The bill now goes to the Governor. MORE on the compensation bill from the Dallas News editorial page.

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