Thursday, March 21, 2013

W. Va. looking to create uniform policy for eyewitness identification

West Virginia lawmakers are pushing law enforcement agencies to create uniform rules for obtaining and using eyewitness identification, according to the West Virginia Gazette.

Last month, State Sen. Bill Laird introduced a bill that would require every police department in the state to have a written policy for "lineups."

The bill calls for investigators to keep a written or video record of each lineup that includes the date and time of the lineup, the names of every person in the lineup, and any words the witness uses to describe the person that supposedly committed the crime.

The legislation also strongly suggests that police agencies conduct "blind" lineups, or lineups conducted by an investigator that does not know the identity of the suspect, reported the Gazette.

But while the bill requires departments to have a written policy in place, police agencies can still implement their own protocol.

Eyewitness misidentification is one of the largest causes of wrongful convictions, according to the Innocence Project, a national nonprofit group that uses DNA testing to fight for prisoners who claim innocence.

According to the Gazette, of the first 239 people that the Innocence Project has helped exonerate, 75 percent were victims of witnesses who pointed out the wrong suspect. In most of those instances, the false identification was attributed to either a faulty live lineup, or photo array. During lineups, investigators sometimes give subtle hints to witnesses, either intentionally or unintentionally, that lead them to select the wrong suspect.

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