A “Simple Tweak” Is All It Would Take To Avert Wrongful Conviction. Why Aren’t We Doing It?

The Daytona Beach News-Journal has a great short article called “A way to end ‘tells’ for witness lineups,” in which the author touches on the “masses of data showing how flawed eyewitness testimony can be” and cites to the 2004 exoneration of a local man, Wilton Dedge, who was convicted on the basis of a flawed eyewitness identification.

We’ve talked about this topic at length, but it’s encouraging to see it making its way into mainstream media coverage of the systemic wrongful conviction problem that continues to plague the country. As the News-Journal points out, the most fundamental problem with police lineups — subtle cues by the lineup administrator suggesting the identity of the suspect to the witness — can be easily and immediately cured by implementing a “simple tweak”:

One of the easiest, and potentially most effective, fixes involves a simple tweak to a basic police tool: the lineup. This practice — in which police actually line up a row of people, or display a set of photographs and ask a witness to identify one as the criminal — is subject to flaws, particularly when the officer administering the lineup knows who the suspect is. Even though the officer might not intend to taint witness identification, it happens, through subtle “tells” such as fleeting changes of facial expression.

The solution is to remove that officer from the lineup process, substituting another officer — one who has never seen the suspect and doesn’t know who the ringers are. This procedure, called a “double-blind” lineup, is the best way to ensure that eyewitness IDs are as accurate as possible.

A “simple tweak” is all it takes, with little or no cost to law enforcement agencies or taxpayers. The fact that we’re still debating this, while innocent people continue to be convicted on the basis of false eyewitness testimony, is inexplicable.

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One Response to A “Simple Tweak” Is All It Would Take To Avert Wrongful Conviction. Why Aren’t We Doing It?

  1. […] reminds us that it wouldn’t take much to “fix” faulty ID procedures and yet we’re […]

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