One common theme throughout the proposed reform measures is a requirement for blind lineup administrators, or an alternative method that has the same effect of preventing the person conducting the lineup from influencing the witness’s choice. Many of the proposed bills would also require cautionary instructions prior to any lineup procedure, in which witnesses are alerted that the perpetrator may or may not be present in the lineup. This instruction alone has been shown to reduce false IDs by as much as 41.6%, in lineups where right guy isn’t present in the lineup.
Some of the other proposed reforms are less targeted at specific practices, and instead just require that law enforcement agencies develop written policies governing eyewitness procedures, in keeping with research on factors that are known to make lineups more or less reliable.
According to Scott Ehlers of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL):
Bills seem to have been going further this year than in the past. Exonerations and the wrongful convictions: I think that is really pushing the issue.
Ehlers mentions the West Virginia eyewitness reform bill which is now a law, as well as eyewitness procedure best-practices bills being proposed in California and Georgia, which Ehlers says have a good chance of passing as well. Overall, 16 bills proposing eyewitness ID reform were submitted across 10 different states this legislative session.
At the same time that reforms have been spreading nationwide, controversy over a study conducted in Illinois continues to draw attention to the same issues. A lawsuit filed by NACDL seeks to expose what many have suggested were serious flaws in the study’s methodology, which its authors suggest support the status quo — the same status quo which we know has resulted in wrongful conviction after wrongful conviction. According to Ezekiel Edwards of the Innocence Project, the questionable study from Illinois has only served to stimulate debate, and in conjunction with a continuing wave of exonerations, has helped push reform efforts forward.