New Policy Weighed for Police Lineups
A model for seeing past faulty eyewitness IDs
Lawmakers this spring passed a law requiring LEMIT to develop the policy and requiring police agencies across the state to adopt it or a similarly rigorous policy by Sept. 1, 2012 – though the law contains no mechanism for enforcement. This is no small problem in Texas, where, according to the Innocence Project of Texas, faulty eyewitness identification has been implicated in more than 80% of DNA exonerations – greater than the national average.
According to the new policy, live lineups are preferable to photo IDs because "witnesses typically view perpetrators of crimes in three dimensions," it reads. Moreover, there are cautions about selecting proper "filler" individuals in lineups to ensure those individuals are consistent with the suspect in appearance and recommendations about administering photo array lineups in sequential order, rather than in a single flop of six photos. The document warns that in order to avoid undue – and often unintentional – influence on a witness, blind administration of the lineup by a person not connected with the investigation of the crime should be used. Notably, the policy also provides a model script for officers to use during lineups, which includes warnings that the suspect may not be among those in the lineup, that the crime will continue to be investigated regardless of whether the witness selects a suspect from the lineup, and that the witness should not feel compelled to pick someone just for the sake of doing so. "It is just as important to clear innocent persons from suspicion as to identify guilty parties," reads the policy.
Without any enforcement mechanism, it is unclear how quickly the policy might be adopted – and whether the new procedures will reduce the instance of mistaken identifications. Indeed, the new law contains no provision to keep out of evidence identifications made outside the parameters of the model policy. You can see the policy online at www.lemitonline.org.