Another Flawed Lineup, Another Exoneration in Dallas County, and a Glimmer of Hope

Thomas Clifford McGowan Jr. has spent the last 23 years in prison because he was selected from a fundamentally flawed photo lineup, after his photo was collected from a traffic offense two days after a rape/burglary.

From the Dallas Morning News:

The 49-year-old would become the 16th Dallas County inmate to be cleared through DNA testing since 2001, the highest total for any county in the country. Like almost all of the other discredited convictions, Mr. McGowan’s was based primarily on the victim selecting his photograph from a police lineup.

The photo array from which the victim selected his photograph was a sloppy collection of black and white photos, color photos, and photocopies of photos. Not surprisingly, Mr. McGowan’s photo was a color original. Further, after the witness tentatively pointed to Mr. McGowan, the investigating officer insisted that the witness make a positive ID, rather than allowing her to describe her level of certainty in her own words.

Barry Scheck and the Innocence Project have worked for the year to free Mr. McGowan.

By not allowing the victim to describe her certainty in her own words, Mr. Scheck contended, Detective Corley implied Mr. McGowan was the attacker.

“I have no doubt that the officer wasn’t trying to do anything wrong here,” Mr. Scheck said. “It’s just a terrible, bad practice.”

Even the local prosecutors are beginning to agree that there is a systemic problem:

Dallas County prosecutor Mike Ware, who oversees the conviction integrity unit, said Tuesday that problems with photo lineups are “a common thread that runs through almost all of the wrongful conviction we’ve run across.”

The Dallas Morning News also reports that Mr. Ware is now publicly embracing the importance of mandatory double-blind lineup procedures for photo arrays, which is an important and significant development, at least to my knowledge. As we reported previously, Dallas County has been laying the groundwork for a field study on police lineups in a purported attempt to develop more reliable procedures, and until now there appeared to be reason for concern that the study would replicate the fundamentally flawed methodology of the now-infamous Illinois/Mecklenburg study that turned out to be little more than a rubber-stamping of the flawed status quo procedures that continue to cause innocent people to be put in prison.

Now, Mr. Ware is on record stressing the importance of double-blind procedures, which all social scientists (and reformers) have long agreed must be a component of any standard lineup procedure that hopes to reduce wrongful convictions.  Presumably this means that the Dallas study won’t repeat the futile endeavor of “testing” blind procedures against non-blind procedures, as was done in Illinois under the guidance of Sheri Mecklenburg, with the number of suspect picks as the measure of “reliability.”

This is big news on the eyewitness ID reform front.  We’ll try to stay on top of this as more information on the Dallas field study begins to surface.

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One Response to Another Flawed Lineup, Another Exoneration in Dallas County, and a Glimmer of Hope

  1. althea says:

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