Flawed eyewitness identification plays a role in the vast majority of DNA exonerations. But many police agencies across the country are still using the same identification procedures as they’ve done for years. Finally, this week Florida law enforcement organizations announced new procedures for photo lineups and eyewitness protocol.
Prosecutors and groups like the FDLE, Florida Sheriff’s Association, Florida Police Chiefs Association, and Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association stand behind new safeguards to ensure identifications are done in the most reliable manner possible. But they aren’t mandating the new procedures, merely urging them.
One lawmaker would like to see the new safeguards be mandated statewide. Senator Joe Negron (R-Stuart) proposed legislation earlier this year that ultimately failed in the House. He believes the new alliance is a step in the right direction and says, “the legislature should and will pass legislation setting uniform statewide minimum requirements for eyewitness identification, including neutral administration of lineups.”
Law enforcement agencies aren’t convinced legislation is necessary. “Having law enforcement take ownership of the eyewitness identification issue and lead in the efforts to improve procedures is a strong step forward in assuring that justice is served in every criminal case,” says State Attorney Michael McAuliffe.
The new procedures are designed to give witnesses the most open and unbiased environment for making an error free identification. They include composing more fair lineups, recording the certainty of the witness, and ensuring the police do not influence the identification process in any way.
The Palm Beach Post points out one failed lineup where witness claimed to see a man with a neck tattoo commit a robbery. When given a lineup in which to identify the suspect, all witness chose the only photo in the lineup with a neck tattoo. That man served prison time before the actual offender was caught and his DNA was linked to the robbery.
Cases of mistaken identity are likely more common that you would think. Though not all of them make it all the way to a conviction, many people are brought in for questioning, jailed, and even charged with a crime in Florida before the mix-up is fixed. This can be a life changing experience when you are the one wrongfully accused.
If you are accused of committing a criminal offense and are not guilty of the charges against you, you know how frustrating this sort of thing is.