In the midst of an ongoing effort to reform the flawed police procedures used by Georgia law enforcement agencies to collect eyewitness evidence, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution published a great piece by Cynthia Tucker on “The Incalculable Price of Faulty Eyewitness IDs.”
The Georgia General Assembly is once again preparing to compensate a man for a grave injustice, once again considering a cash payment to a victim of a wrongful conviction. On Monday, the House Appropriations Committee recommended a payment of $1.2 million to Willie Otis “Pete” Williams, who was freed from prison in January 2007 after serving nearly 22 years for a rape he did not commit.
A million dollars isn’t nearly enough. A billion dollars wouldn’t be enough.
After touching on the incomprehensible loss to a man wrongfully imprisoned for 22 years, the author laments that “the General Assembly has become practiced at the fine art of negotiating the value of stolen years.”
You’d think this steady procession of Georgians cruelly stripped of their freedom would prompt more than million-dollar payments from the state treasury. You’d think their fates would inspire agonizing debate over the frailties of the state’s criminal justice system. And you’d think that legislators would rush to find remedies that would at least lower the number of wrongful convictions.
You’d be wrong.
There is still time for the GA legislature to do the right thing and move this out of the Rules Committee and put this important reform bill to a vote. Let’s hope Ms. Tucker is wrong this time.
ACTION ITEM: If you’d like to contact GA legislators about this issue and urge them to do the right thing, an action alert is below the fold with contact info and a scripted email, compliments of Laura Moye with Amnesty International.
From Laura Moye:
Action Alert: Improve Eyewitness Identification Procedures
Please take action – about 5 minutes needed to send this email:
Ask the House Rules Committee to put HB 997 and HR 1071 on the
legislative calendar so the House can bring the legislation to a vote.
This legislation passed through committee, but has been stuck in the
Rules Committee, which schedules bills for debate before the full
House. It is critical that the House pass this bill by next Friday
(“cross over day”) so that the Senate can then consider it and pass
the legislation before the clock runs out on the session.
Please follow these 2 simple steps:
1) Copy/paste these email addresses into an email message:
firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org,
2) Copy/paste this message into the email:
Dear Members of the House Rules Committee,
I write to ask you to please put the Eyewitness Identification
Accuracy Enhancement Act – HB 997 and its companion HR 1071 on the
legislative calendar so that the House can vote on this legislation
as soon as possible.
This legislation has support from the law enforcement community and
would greatly benefit the people of Georgia in the administration of
justice for victims of crime. The Judiciary Non-Civil Committee
passed this bill favorably.
Georgia law enforcement agencies would benefit greatly from
enhanced standards and training in their efforts to obtain eyewitness
identifications. Eyewitness identification is a critical tool for
apprehending and prosecuting perpetrators of crimes. Regrettably,
though, eyewitness misidentification is the leasing causes of
Since 1989, DNA evidence has been used to exonerate over 200
individuals (including 6 in Georgia ). About 75% were convicted due
to inaccurate eyewitness identification.
This legislation would enact procedural changes enabling law
enforcement officials to obtain more reliable evidence from
eyewitnesses for use in criminal investigations. Because eyewitness
evidence, much like scientific evidence, is susceptible to
contamination, some eyewitness identification procedures actually
increase the risk of false identification. By improving these
procedures in small ways, the actual quality of eyewitness evidence
can be improved.
When identifications are more accurate, prosecutions are stronger,
convictions are more reliable and justice is better served for the
victims of crime. This legislation will benefit public safety
greatly; after all, if the actual perpetrators of crime are not
apprehended, they are free to commit more crimes and the wrongfully
Please give the full House an opportunity to discuss this important
issue and take a vote on the Witness Identification Accuracy
Enhancement Act (HB 997) and resolution on best practices for
conducting identification procedures (HR 1071).
[your name and address (if you live in Ga)]
———-end of action ——————-
THANKS FOR TAKING ACTION!