Prince George’s County Updates Eyewitness Procedures

It’s well established by now that eyewitness testimony is among the most unreliable forms of evidence in a criminal trial and one county with a pretty bad track record with its law enforcement is taking some steps to reduce the chances of wrongly identified suspects.

The Prince George’s County Police Department is transforming how detectives conduct photo lineups in an effort to prevent innocent people from going to prison.

Starting this spring, detectives must show witnesses photos of potential suspects one at a time on separate pieces of paper rather than all at once on a single page. Lineups must also be “blind,” which means a detective unfamiliar with the case must present photos to witnesses instead of an officer investigating the crime.

The method is called the “double-blind sequential lineup.” The goal is to reduce chances that witnesses would falsely identify suspects or that detectives would unwittingly nudge witnesses to choose a particular photo.

“You don’t want to catch the wrong guy because now you’re messing with someone who is innocent and the bad guy is still out there,” said Carlos F. Acosta, inspector general for the Prince George’s police.

The county is not alone in overhauling its lineup policies. Baltimore adopted new photo lineup policies in the fall, while the practice has become the norm in Dallas, North Carolina, Philadelphia and other jurisdictions. And late last month, Maryland state Sen. Catherine E. Pugh (D-Baltimore) introduced a bill in the General Assembly that would require all law enforcement agencies to change their procedures to blind but not sequential lineups.

That’s a good first step, but only a first step. There are dozens of reforms that need to be put in place to help reduce the chances of a wrongful conviction. About 75% of all murder and rape convictions that have been overturned on the basis of DNA evidence by the Innocence Project had positive eyewitness identifications in the case.

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  • justsomeguy

    But the old system works just fine! Observe:

    -somebody commits a crime.

    -somebody is put in jail for it.

    See? Perfect justice.

  • http://www.thelosersleague.com theschwa

    @ justsomeguy (#1). I agree 100%. As the Jesusbible has taught us, it is morally right that so long as SOMEONE is punished for a crime/sin, then justice has been done.

  • Chiroptera

    So it’s a bad idea for the detective to be tapping one particular photo while pretending to look at the ceiling non-chalantly? Man, the liberals are getting picky.

  • zmidponk

    So the pictures must be shown one at a time? Wonder how long it’ll be before the pictures are of the suspect, then the suspect in a wig, then the suspect in a fake beard, then the suspect with glasses on…

  • TxSkeptic

    What does it matter which picture the witness picks? The people in all those pictures did something wrong, or why would the police have their picture in the first place, right? The po-po would never have a picture of an innocent person, now would they?

  • matty1

    @5 I don’t know ow widespread this is but when I was a student the police actually came round recruiting people to be the fakes in line ups. The idea was that rather than having the witness pick the right person out of a set of potential perpetrators you (at least first) see if they know enough to pick them out of a totally random set of people. I didn’t volunteer but I understand that quite a lot of the time they picked the volunteers, who the police assumed to be innocent and so were discredited as a source of evidence.

  • had3

    The cops also use pictures of new recruits and undercover cops to fill in the list. Much as this is a step in the right direction, mandatory recording of all interactions would be so much better. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had a client deny they said what the police report as being said, but with no recording, we all know who a jury will believe.

  • Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had a client deny they said what the police report as being said, but with no recording, we all know who a jury will believe.

    I got robbed under cover of law on similar grounds. Thankfully it was only an absurdly fraudulent assignment of fault in an accident.

  • Moggie

    You don’t want to catch the wrong guy because now you’re messing with someone who is innocent and the bad guy is still out there

    Wow, thanks chief. Mind blown. Do you have any other advice aimed at an audience with the moral sense of small children?