Thursday, December 22, 2011

LEMIT Delivers Model Eyewitness ID Policy for Texas

Illustration of two men pointing at a live police lineup.

A model policy that will serve as a resource for Texas law enforcement agencies on eyewitness identification procedures was delivered to departments across the state by the Bill Blackwood Law Enforcement Management Institute of Texas at Sam Houston State University.

The model policy was mandated by the Texas Legislature in the wake of several high profile criminal cases overturned by faulty eyewitness identification. The policy, which will serve as a sample to law enforcement agencies that routinely use photo or live lineups, is based on 35 years of scientific research in the field and collaboration with law enforcement officials, legal representatives and special interest groups in the state.

"Creating a justice system that we can all have faith in is a priority for all Texans,” said Rep. Pete P. Gallego, author of the bill. “This helps ensure that our system will work and that justice will actually prevail."

Among the key recommendations sent to police departments, Constables’ and Sheriffs’ Offices in the state are:

  • The person administering the lineup should not know who the suspect is.
  • Photo lineups should be done sequentially, with one photo shown at a time, to improve chances of accurate identification.
  • The filler photos used should be similar to the suspect and match the witnesses’ descriptions.
  • Witnesses should be provided with clear instructions, including a statement that the perpetrator may or may not be in the photo or live lineup. Precautions must be taken to ensure that witnesses don’t encounter other witnesses, suspects, or those used as fillers before or after the lineup procedure.
  • The use of showups, where suspects are presented to a witness shortly after the crime, should be avoided and should be used only under limited circumstances.
  • All eyewitness identification processes should be documented, preferably by audio or video recordings.
  • Interpreters should be used in eyewitness identification procedures when the witness doesn’t speak English.

Texas law enforcement agencies that regularly conduct such procedures are required to adopt an eyewitness identification policy by September 2012. In addition to the sample policy, LEMIT offered model procedures to serve as a step-by-step guide for use in the field. LEMIT also will offer “Train the Trainer” sessions in the spring and summer to instruct potential trainers on how to train others to conduct the procedures.

In addition to a statewide committee that participated in developing the policy, LEMIT accepted public comment for a month and held a public hearing in Austin to receive public feedback. The Institute received several e-mails and phone calls with suggested changes and heard from 22 speakers, representing law enforcement agencies, special interest groups and exonerated defendants, at the hearing in Austin.

"Texas has the unfortunate distinction of leading the nation in wrongful convictions resulting from faulty eyewitness identification procedures,” said Sen. Rodney Ellis, sponsor of H.B. 215. “It's time we earned the distinction of leading the way in meaningful reforms to ensure the innocent are protected, the guilty are brought to justice, and we have evidence we can trust."