Lineup Reform in Texas

Add Texas to the growing list of states where police lineup reform has made its way to the legislature. Texas’s lineup reform bill, SB 799 (PDF), is scheduled for a public hearing today.

According to Texas blogger Scott Henson over at Grits for Breakfast, Dallas County leads the nation in post-conviction DNA exonerations. In a state ripe for reform, this bill would require:

The office of the attorney general, in consultation with state and local law enforcement agencies and scientific experts in witness memory, shall develop, adopt, and disseminate to all state and local law enforcement agencies in this state comprehensive written policies and procedures and associated training materials regarding the administration of photograph and live lineup identification procedures . . .

Beyond this general mandate, the bill goes into some detail in key areas. It would require that detailed instructions be given to witnesses prior to any lineup procedure, including the critical instruction that the perpetrator might or might not be present. It would also be conducted in double-blind format, where the administrator is a “neutral” party who is not aware of the identity of the suspect, “where practicable.” Where not practicable, however, the bill provides detailed guidance on the next-best procedure. In addition to requiring that an explanation be given for the reason the procedure was not conducted in double-blind format, the administrator must use an alternative method that prevents him or her from being aware of which lineup member is being viewed at a given time — either through the use of computer software, the “folder method,” or “another method designed to achieve a neutral administration of the procedure.”

This is a well-drafted bill that explicitly hits the core best practices — in addition to the above, it requires that a detailed confidence statement be taken from a witness in her own words, immediately following an ID, it prohibits lineups including more than one suspect, prohibits commentary or feedback by the administrator during or after the procedure, and even prevents anyone familiar with the identity of the suspect from being present during the procedure. It also goes into some detail regarding the importance of not making the suspect stand out, matching up features from the original witness description, includes a requirement for detailed documentation relating to the procedure, whether or not an ID is made, and other good stuff.

Check out the bill here. We’ll be following this one as it makes its way through the TX Senate.

UPDATE: It turns out that James Curtis Giles, expected to be the 13th DNA exoneree from Dallas County, will be appearing today with Barry Scheck at the state capitol in Austin, to speak at senate hearings in support of the eyewitness bill and other innocence-protection legislation on the agenda. More on Mr. Giles hopeful exoneration at the Dallas Morning News. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals must still give its approval before the exoneration is final, but all signs point in the right direction.

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