Posts Tagged ‘Innocence Commission’

Florida Innocence Commission Meeting

Alejandra de la Fuente — February 17, 2012 @ 12:44 PM — Comments (0)

On Monday Feb. 13, 2012, the Florida Innocence Commission met at the Supreme Court of Florida. The meeting focused on two of the major contributing factors of wrongful convictions: informants/jailhouse snitches and improper/invalid scientific evidence. The first several hours of the meeting were spent discussing the various options available to the Commission with regard to snitches.

The Commission considered giving recommendations for a set of detailed jury instructions in the case of informant testimony, instituting a rule requiring pretrial screenings to determine the reliability of informants, and amending the discovery rules in the Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure (Rule 3.220). Ultimately, a majority of the Commission decided against recommending  pretrial reliability hearings. Commission member Mary Barzee-Flores asserted that it would be inappropriate for the courts to exclude witnesses from testifying because they were deemed unreliable. She said, “it is in the province of the jury to determine whether or not a given witnesses testimony is reliable.” The Commission was, however, in favor of creating a special jury instruction to be used in cases with informant testimony. The Commission moved to recommend the use of an instruction informing juries that some witnesses, like informants or snitches, may have been offered certain things (such as safety from prosecution in another case), in exchange for their testimony and  should thus be treated with more caution than the testimony of other witnesses.

The Commission also moved to have a subcommittee that has previously discussed amending the discovery Rules of Criminal Procedure to continue discussing the language to be used in amending that rule.

The next meeting will take place in Orlando on March 12 at 9:30 a.m. The Commission will continue discussing improper/invalid science and the possibly reforms to prevent their use as evidence in trials. The commission will continue meeting until June 2012, when they will release their final report detailing their findings and recommendations.

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September Update

Alejandra de la Fuente — September 26, 2011 @ 12:21 PM — Comments (2)

In this monthly update, Seth Miller, IPF’s Executive Director, provides an update on the Florida Innocence Commission’s work on witness identification procedures and recording interrogations to prevent future wrongful convictions. Florida DNA exoneree William Michael Dillon releases his first full-length CD, Black Robes and Lawyers, on September 27th. Seth also announces IPF’s first celebration gala, Steppin’ Out with the Innocence Project of Florida. It is scheduled for April 26, 2012, at the Four Seasons Hotel, Miami. This gala event will honor some of the early pioneers of Florida’s innocence movement and commemorate the inspiring journeys of Florida’s 13 DNA exonerees.

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Wising Up and Owning Up

Alejandra de la Fuente — July 05, 2011 @ 2:49 PM — Comments (1)

The Florida Innocence Commission issued an interim report last week verifying the harm that ensues from witness misidentification. According to this report, it is the major contributor to wrongful convictions and was a factor in nine of 11 identified cases in the State while accounting for 77 percent of 261 specific wrongful convictions across the nation. This begs the question as to why law enforcement is so reluctant to change photo identification procedures to help prevent this tragic phenomenon that results in untold misery, not only for the wrongly accused, but for future victims of the true perpetrator.

The Commission pointed out some simple, cost-free steps police departments can take to help ensure accuracy in photo ID procedures such as presenting photos one at a time, using a method in which the presenter does not see the photo being presented, limiting the photo presentation to subjects similar to those with characteristics the victim/witness described, and informing the viewer that a photo of the perpetrator of the crime may not be there. These are logical, easy-to-adopt methods. So why would the police fail to use them as means to better ensure accurate witness identification?

One can also question why law enforcement/prosecutors are so often reluctant to admit an error – frequently in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary — that indeed a mistake has occurred and the wrong person was convicted. I hasten to point out there are exceptions to this rule like former Washington, D.C. Prosecutor J. Brooks Harrington who readily admitted and sincerely regrets mistakes made by his office. Harrington resigned shortly after dropping charges against a wrongly convicted man only to find out many years later that another of his convictions resulted in an innocent man, Donald Gates, spending 28 years in prison.

One of the first lessons most of us teach our kids is to resist the temptation of denial, admit their mistakes, and make it right. Not only is it the moral thing to do, it builds character to admit a mistake. What’s more, others tend to support those who acknowledge an error. Politicians’ ratings go up, such as John F. Kennedy experienced after he took the blame for the Bay of Pigs fiasco. Hospitals are learning that owning up to errors in patient treatment can deflect malpractice lawsuits. It’s a win-win. Everybody feels better.

So why do some law enforcement officials remain mired in denial of the error of their ways? Is it just their inability to accept blame, especially if coercive tactics used by the police added to the miscarriage of justice? Are they afraid they’ll look bad in the public’s eyes? Or is it just overwhelming guilt?

I’m just asking the questions. I don’t have the answers. I encourage those who do to provide them.

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Innocence Commission Meets After Legislature Failed at Eyewitness ID Reform

Seth — May 19, 2011 @ 4:00 PM — Comments (0)

Last week a did a post-mortem on the legislative session, which mostly dealt with the unfortunate failure of the House to move forward on vital eyewitness identification reform.  This week, the Florida Innocence Commission met for the first time after the legislature failed to enact their proposal for mandatory double-blind lineup procedures.  The Commission wasted little time in attempting to fill the void left by the legislature.  It decided to propose statewide standards for all law enforcement:

The commission wants a statewide standard that will involve showing photos all at once in a group of six photos arranged in two rows with three photos per row. The recommendation will be presented June 30 to the state Supreme Court as part of the commission’s interim report.  The commission also supports a procedure involving six photos and eight folders. In this process, known as a “blind test,” a crime victim would be shown six photos sequentially in a series of eight folders — two of which are empty. This procedure is designed to limit the ability of police officers to influence the selection of a particular photo. Officers are supposed to step away and say nothing while an eyewitness or crime victim decides if one of the mug shots matches the person responsible for the crime.  In addition, the commission recommended that whenever a police agency’s resources permit, a “double-blind test” should be used. This would involve having the photo lineup conducted by someone without any knowledge of the case.

I tend to think that this may be a bit loose, given that only the legislature can actually mandate a standard and compliance with it.  The Commission’s effort, however, to make clear what the best practices are is certainly laudable and will help us for next legislative session.  Getting the double-blind method in these standards is important because, as many on the Commission noted, that is the “gold standard” for how to do lineups.

As usual, we heard the standard canards from law enforcement:

Charlotte County Sheriff Bill Cameron, representing the Florida Sheriffs Association, objected, saying a mandatory requirement would make it difficult and possibly impossible for small agencies to comply.Those agencies don’t have the staff to provide an independent test administrator for the frequently used identification procedure in a broad range of crimes. Cameron also said patrol officers at crime scenes routinely conduct photo lineups for witnesses under circumstances where it would be difficult to find an officer not involved in the investigation to conduct the lineup.

. . .

“It’s a mistake to send the message you don’t trust law enforcement,” Cameron said, moments before being challenged by both a former federal prosecutor and a judge.

First, the folder shuffle method, which was included in SB 1206 and is in these Commission-approved standards, completely relieves the staff and cost concerns.  It literally costs the price of 8 manila folders.  If even the smallest law enforcement agency can’t afford 8 manila folders to blind the administrator, we have bigger problems than previously thought.  Cameron and others just want to cover their ears and say “la, la, la” every time someone mentions the folder-shuffle method as if ignoring it will make their argument have more weight.  Their continued harping about costs and staff resources when IPF, Senator Negron, and the Innocence Commission have conceded the folder-shuffle method to deal with their concerns, is completely intellectually dishonest.

And to boot, no one is blaming law enforcement.  Other members of the Commission, likely recogizing by now that the law enforcement/prosecutor members are not reasonably working to build a consensus on this issue, took umbrage with Cameron’s use of a straw man as a veiled threat:

Judge Israel Reyes of Miami, a former homicide investigator for the Miami-Dade Police Department, told Cameron that the suggestion he did not support law enforcement was personally offensive. He said best practices are written so there is “no wriggle room for the bad segments of law enforcement” who routinely cut corners and don’t follow procedures.

Panelists said the recommended policy is being made to incorporate new understanding of flaws in witness identification brought on by stress and it does not reflect negatively on law enforcement.

Ultimately, this will not be mandatory and is only a recommendation, one that we will have to depend on law enforcement to implement.  Will they do it?  If they do, will we receive total, uniform compliance?  Only time will tell and IPF will begin to monitor statewide compliance later this year.  This is why IPF pushed for a legislative mandate and why the Commission recommended it in March.  Only with a legislative mandate for best practices, can we bring those segments of the criminal justice community, who want to deny the severity of the wrongful conviction problem and rebuff progress to address it, into the 21st century.

The Commission moves onto false confessions next.

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Legislative Wrap-Up: On Innocence, Senate Leads While House Comes Up Small

Seth — May 11, 2011 @ 9:03 AM — Comments (5)

For sixty days every year, our nice little town of Tallahassee swells with legislators, staff and lobbyist, all here to debate and pass hundreds of pieces of legislation that affect all of our lives in ways we can’t imagine or even keep up with. IPF usually leads an effort to pass one piece of legislation each year that would help prevent wrongful convictions or compensate those who have been exonerated.

As we have noted before, this year Senator Joe Negron (R-Palm City) sponsored the Eyewitness Identification Reform Act (SB 1206). The Florida Innocence Commission voted to support the Negron bill which mandated that law enforcement agencies perform lineups in a double blind fashion, i.e. using an independent administrator who doesn’t know the identity of the known suspect. This made good sense because it would remove any opportunity of suggestiveness in the process. This is not to say that law enforcement officials want to be suggestive. But studies have shown that even those with the best intentions can give inadvertent cues. Thus, this is about methods not the intent of people.

The bill was moving swiftly in both houses until Rep. William Snyder (R-Stuart) decided that he was no longer supportive of the Negron bill in the House.  Snyder watered-down the identical House version of the Negron bill to remove any mandate, instead leaving it up to individual law enforcement agencies to come up with their own policies, while providing little guidance in his version of the bill on actual administration of lineups.  All the Snyder bill said was that these policies had to include a protocol for the “impartial and neutral” administration of lineups.  The problem, however, is that every law enforcement agency thinks the way they are currently performing lineups, which does not adhere to best practices, is impartial and neutral, mostly because they get who they think is their guy and they couldn’t imagine a scenario where they get it wrong.  Exoneree Alan Crotzer lambasted the committee and the law enforcement officials present for their opposition to the stronger Negron provisions.  But because Snyder was the committee chair, the rank and file members of the committee supported the change, even though a clear majority stated unequivocally to us that they supported the Negron version before they knew about the Snyder version.

What is interesting is that Snyder was for the Negron bill before he was against it.  In fact, he was the most vocal supporter of the Negron proposal in the Innocence Commission:

Just for the record, I was a cop for 32 years. . . . If we leave it to self-police, some will–like Palm Beach County–and some won’t.  They will never self-police, because it so easy to throw three pictures (at a witness). . . . So as long as we let people self-police, we will continue to have innocent people in prison.  If we want to really put a huge marker and change that, we have the opportunity by state statute to do it.  It’s hot now.  But in two years, five years. 10 years, 15 years from now, it may not be on the front burner.”

Truer words have never been spoken.  Snyder was simply stating the obvious, yet despite his previous, unequivocal statements in support, he derailed this bill once law enforcement got to him within the legislative process.  Maybe it is because he is running for Martin County Sheriff in 2012 and he didn’t want to burn any bridges that would hurt his election efforts.  Any way you cut it, it is just duplicitous.

With the Negron bill passing overwhelmingly in all committees and passing the full Senate by a 35-3 margin, we now had competing bills in both houses.  Something had to give.  Florida’s wrongly convicted spoke up in an open letter published in the Orlando Sentinel to the leadership of the Florida House urging them to take up the Negron bill and vote on it “as is .”  Victims of crime and law enforcement joined them in the call to pass SB 1206.

Yet it wasn’t enough.  Snyder, presumably with the blessing of Speaker Cannon, filed an amendment to Negron’s bill that would again water down the Senate version.  Senator Negron attached his eyewitness identification reform provisions to another bill dealing with the courts (SB 1398), which was then passed the Senate on the second to last day of session.  Snyder again filed the same amendment.  Because this change would have been unacceptable, the bills became irreconcilable.   Frankly, the constant amendments that the House knew Negron wouldn’t accept and that they knew would not do a thing to prevent misidentifications was just a cynical way to appease law enforcement and kill this bill.

Unfortunately, it worked.  On the last day of the session, the House was able to take up bills disciplining individuals wearing their pants around their rear ends, but they couldn’t find a few moments to help prevent wrongful convictions.  Nor could they find any time to pass Bill Dillon’s individual compensation bill, which also passed the full Senate.  Both bills died because of the House’s inaction.  The House even tried to nix funding for the Innocence Commission, but Senate President Haridopolos insisted on that money being in the final budget.

Where are our priorities?  Does the House leadership want us to leave the real perpetrators of crimes on the streets, while creating victims and ruining lives, and then paying multi-million settlements to exonerees?  Or would it just make more sense to put in place simple, cost-neutral reforms that save everyone the trouble up front?  The House was faced with this moral question and instead of taking bold, decisive action based on facts and evidence, they bowed to unreasonable, but weighty special interest groups; simply punting the issue for another day.

Senator Negron and Senate President Haridopolos stepped up and deserve a tremendous amount of credit.  They led on this issue, which is what we hope and expect our elected officials to do, no matter their political party or whether we agree with them on everything or even most things.

Let me say that eyewitness ID reform is the most critical but also the most difficult innocence protection reform there is.  While this outcome is disappointing, your support for this bill and your action at our behest was vital to get the bill on the cusp of passage in a legislature which was dealing with drastic budgeting issues and one which is generally not too interested in innocence issues.  We all should not lose sight of that.  We hope that next year with renewed leadership in the Senate and the House joining them, we will achieve these and other reforms, Bill Dillon will be compensated, and we will help prevent innocent people from entering our prisons.


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Press Release: Law Enforcement, Victims, and the Wrongly Convicted Urge House to Pass Landmark Eyewitness Identification Bill

Alejandra de la Fuente — May 02, 2011 @ 12:12 PM — Comments (0)

Law Enforcement, Victims, and the Wrongly Convicted Urge House to Pass Landmark Eyewitness Identification Bill;

SB 1206, Requiring Identification Best Practices, Passes Senate and Awaits House Consideration

(Tallahassee, FL) As Senate Bill 1206 awaits consideration by the full Florida House of Representatives, those most affected by misidentification and wrongful conviction— law enforcement, victims of crime, and the wrongly convicted—urge the House to pass SB 1206 in its current form and pave the way for its enactment in law.  SB 1206 will require all law enforcement agencies in Florida to follow certain scientifically proven best practices when preparing and administering eyewitness identification procedures.  SB 1206, sponsored by Sen. Joe Negron (R-Palm City), passed the full Senate on April 29, 2011, with a vote count of 34-5.

The most critical reform in SB 1206 is the required use of an independent or blind administrator who doesn’t know the identity of law enforcement’s known suspect.  Thirty years of scientific testing has shown that “blind” administration is the single most important way to remove intentional or inadvertent suggestiveness from lineup procedures that lead to mistaken identifications.

“Simply spoken, as long we delay and continue to conduct photo lineups in any way that is not ‘blind’ or ‘double blind,’ many innocent people will continue to be misidentified, wrongly convicted, and wrongly incarcerated.  That is a matter of public safety, for as long as the innocent subject remains incarcerated, the guilty and often dangerous subject walks the street,” said Robert Cromwell, former Special Agent-in-Charge for the Federal Bureau of Investigation for North Florida.

“Representative Snyder had it right when he relied on his own experience as a career police officer to conclude that sometimes folks in law enforcement are resistant to change and that the only way to diminish misidentifications and catch the real perpetrators the first time around is to require blind administration by statute. The House can heed Rep. Snyder’s words by passing SB 1206,” continued Cromwell, referring to statements of Rep. Bill Snyder (R-Stuart), made at the Florida Innocence Commission, as he implored the Commission to support Negron’s proposal that is now SB 1206.  The Innocence Commission, after six months of studying the issue of eyewitness misidentification identification, voted 12-8 in March 2011, to support Negron’s legislative solution.

Should Florida enact SB 1206 into law, it will be one of over ten states to address this issue legislatively and the fourth to adopt a statewide mandate of blind administration of eyewitness identification procedures, joining New Jersey, North Carolina and Ohio.  A recent survey of law enforcement agencies in Florida demonstrated that a mere 16% of those agencies even have a written policy addressing identification procedures.  Of those who have policies, four agencies in Florida, Hillsborough County Sheriff, Coral Springs Police Department, Lighthouse Point Police Department, and Margate Police Department, are already performing the best practices set out in SB 1206.  Additionally, scores of law enforcement agencies around the country, large and small, have implemented the best practices required by SB 1206, including The City of Charlotte, North Carolina.

“Police agencies across the country have implemented the very modifications to lineup procedures contained in SB 1206 out of recognition that they enhance the reliability and accuracy of identifications. These practices help law enforcement to avoid focusing on innocent suspects that derail investigations,” said Darrel Stephens, former Chief of Charlotte-Mecklenberg Police Department, which implemented the very procedures in SB 1206 as part of a statewide mandate in North Carolina.  “Law enforcement professionals in jurisdictions that have implemented these types of reforms, including the use of an independent administrator, find that these identifications are unassailable in court. Investigators do not have to spend time defending the practices they use to obtain identifications in court because they are scientifically-supported. There is no question that law enforcement benefits from the use of best practices in this area,” continued Stephens, who also served as the Executive Director, Police Executive Research Forum.

When the best practices set out in SB 1206 are not used, many suffer, especially the victims of crime and those wrongly convicted based on misidentifications.  “When Ronald Cotton was awaiting trial and being sentenced to life in prison, Bobby Poole, the man who actually raped me, was left on the streets of Burlington NC to further rape at least six other women.  It was my eyewitness identification of Ronald Cotton that led to this tragedy and still haunts me to this day.  Simple reforms can be put into place to help ensure we hold the guilty accountable, the innocent are free and the victims can receive true justice,” said Jennifer Thompson, a victim of a 1984 North Carolina rape, who now speaks with exoneree Ronald Cotton about the problems with eyewitness identifications.

Eyewitness misidentification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions nationally and in Florida.  Seventy-five percent of the 269 DNA exonerees nationally were originally wrongfully convicted based, in whole or in part, on mistaken witness identification.  In Florida, 10 of 13 DNA exonerees had an eyewitness misidentification contribute to their wrongful convictions.

“A very suggestive identification procedure was used in my case that led to my misidentifictaion and wrongful conviction.  I spent 24 years, 6 months, 13 days and 4 hours in prison for someone else’s crime while the real rapist remained free.  My ordeal could have been prevented had SB 1206 been in place during the criminal investigation that led to my wrongful conviction,” said Alan Crotzer, convicted of a 1981 double-rape in Tampa and exonerated through DNA testing in 2006.

Crotzer signed an open letter from the wrongly convicted in Florida to the House leadership urging them to pass SB 1206 in its current form.  This letter was recently published in the Orlando Sentinel and can be read here.

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Amendment to HB 821 Will Render It Useless If Passed

Alejandra de la Fuente — April 11, 2011 @ 11:05 AM — Comments (0)

In a recent post, we asked you to contact Representative William Snyder, Chairman of the Judiciary Committee. Thank you for your response and your calls to Rep. Snyder.

Your efforts have resulted in HB 821, the Eyewitness Identification Reform Act, being placed on the Committee’s calendar for consideration at the Committee meeting on Tuesday, April 12th at 1 p.m. Although we’ve made progress, we’re not assured that the bill will pass out of the Committee intact.

An amendment has been filed that will render this modest bill useless as the proposed changes remove any requirement that law enforcement abide by best practices. To ensure that the Innocence Commission’s positive work will have a lasting effect and for this bill to have any impact on the prevention of wrongful convictions, this amendment must be defeated.

Call to Action

We are asking you to make your voice heard once again. If your representative serves on the Judiciary Committee, please contact them – thank them for all of their hard work, particularly with HB 821, and politely encourage them to reject the amendment to water down HB 821 and support the bill as it is currently written. Feel free to contact additional members of the Committee. (You can find your representative here, click “Find Your Representative” in the grey menu bar.)

Committee members’ information follows:

Committee Member Capitol Office Phone District Office Phone
Snyder, William D. (R) (850) 488-8832 (772) 221-4904
McBurney, Charles (R) (850) 488-4171 (904) 359-6090
Porth, Ari Abraham (D) (850) 488-2124 (954) 346-2810
Baxley, Dennis K. (R) (850) 488-0335 (352) 732-1313
Campbell, Daphne D. (D) (850) 488-4233 (305) 795-1210
Eisnaugle, Eric (R) (850) 488-9770 (407) 893-3141
Gaetz, Matt (R) (850) 488-1170 (850) 833-9328
Goodson, Tom (R) (850) 488-3006 (321) 383-5151
Hager, Bill (R) (850) 488-2234 (561) 470-6607
Harrison, Shawn (R) (850) 488-3087 (813) 983-3300
Julien, John Patrick (D) (850) 488-7088 (305) 650-0022
Metz, Larry (R) (850) 488-0348 (352) 742-6275
Passidomo, Kathleen C. (R) (850) 488-4487 (239) 417-6200
Pilon, Ray (R) (850) 488-7754 (941) 955-8077
Schwartz, Elaine J. (D) (850) 488-0465 (954) 924-3813
Soto, Darren (D) (850) 488-9240 (407) 249-4743
Steinberg, Richard L. (D) (850) 488-0690 (305) 535-5445
Steube, W. Gregory (R) (850) 488-6341 (941) 907-2810

Additional Information About the Bill
Just as a reminder, the bill provides for:

  • double-blind administration of line-ups using an independent administrator to prevent influencing the witness’s selection, however inadvertently;
  • cost-effective alternatives to the independent administrator;
  • standard instructions for eyewitnesses before viewing the line-ups; and
  • educational materials and training programs for law enforcement on how to conduct line-ups.

This is a fiscally neutral bill. In fact, this bill promises to save Florida money. In the three DNA exonerations that were cleanly tied to misidentification (i.e. no other contributing factors), the State has already paid out more than $3 million.

This is a law and order bill: We know how to achieve accurate identifications, but law enforcement is not using these best practices, and failing to do so puts public safety at peril. The real perpetrators in more than 100 DNA exoneration cases have now been identified. These real perpetrators went on to be convicted of more than 20 murders and 60 rapes that took place while the innocent person languished behind bars. Although this is a national statistic, there is no reason to think this pattern stops at any state borders.

Again, please contact Judiciary Committee members – thank them for all of their hard work, particularly with HB 821, and politely encourage them to reject the amendment to water down HB 821 and support the bill as it is currently written. Thank you.

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Action Alert: Witness Id. Bill in Peril of Dying in the Florida House

Alejandra de la Fuente — April 07, 2011 @ 5:24 PM — Comments (1)

Derrick Williams was exonerated in Manatee County just this week after 18 years in prison for a rape he did not commit. Derrick’s conviction was due in large part to eyewitness misidentification. If law enforcement had had best practices in place at the time, it is highly likely that Derrick would not have been misidentified, and thus not wrongfully convicted.

There is currently legislation in the Legislature that will help prevent misidentifications from happening – SB 1206 and HB 821 – Eyewitness Identification Reform Act.

This bill provides for:

  • double-blind administration of line-ups using an independent administrator to prevent influencing the witness’s selection, however inadvertently;
  • cost-effective alternatives to the independent administrator;
  • standard instructions for eyewitnesses before viewing the line-ups; and
  • educational materials and training programs for law enforcement on how to conduct line-ups.

Right now, it looks like the bill will pass through the Senate. We have grave concerns, however, about the House bill (HB 821). HB 821 has not been placed on the calendar for consideration by the Judiciary Committee.  If the bill is not “calendared”, it will die in Committee. The committee meets early next week, so we need your help no later than Friday April 8th.

Call to Action
We are asking you, as someone who cares about justice and ending wrongful convictions, to call Representative William Snyder, Chair of the Judiciary Committee, at 850-488-8832 (Capitol office) or 772-221-4904 (District office.) Thank him for his work on the Florida Innocence Commission and support of this important bill, and ask him to get the bill on the Committee’s calendar for consideration. Please call no later than Friday, April 8th as the Committee meets early next week, and they will have to calendar it.

Additional Information About the Bills
This is a fiscally neutral bill. When cost is a consideration, the bill allows law enforcement to use an alternative method, like the folder shuffle, to administer a photo lineup. Lineup photos are simply placed in manila folders, shuffled, and then shielded from the administrator’s view while the eyewitness looks at them. Effecting blind administration carries a price tag of a few manila folders.

In fact, this bill promises to save Florida money. In the three DNA exonerations that were cleanly tied to misidentification (i.e. no other contributing factors), the State has already paid out more than $3 million.

This is a law and order bill: We know how to achieve accurate identifications, but law enforcement is not using these best practices, and failing to do so puts public safety at peril. The real perpetrators in more than 100 DNA exoneration cases have now been identified. These real perpetrators went on to be convicted of more than 20 murders and 60 rapes that took place while the innocent person languished behind bars. Although this is a national statistic, there is no reason to think this pattern stops at any state borders.

Again, we urge you to call Representative William Snyder, Chair of the Judiciary Committee, at 850-488-8832 (Capitol office) or 772-221-4904 (District office) and ask him to please calendar HB 821. Thank you.

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February Video Blog Update

Alejandra de la Fuente — February 07, 2011 @ 1:00 PM — Comments (0)

Welcome to the first video blog of 2011.

In this edition, Seth Miller, IPF Executive Director, provides an update on the Derrick Williams case, the work of the Florida Innocence Commission and a fundraising event sponsored by the FSU Student Bar Association and the ACLU.

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Great Eyewitness Misidentification Article

Seth — January 04, 2011 @ 9:52 AM — Comments (2)

This weekend, thePalm Beach Post had a great article on the foibles of human memory which cause eyewitness misidentifications.  While the article comprehensively covers the issue, it also notes that the Post did its own mini-study of eyewitness identification policies of thirty-two local law enforcement agencies:

As wrongful convictions based on mistaken eyewitness identification swelled, the U.S. Department of Justice recommended to police and sheriffs nearly a dozen years ago a host of simple safeguards:

How to create fair photo lineups; how to advise eyewitnesses when they look at lineups; how to document an eyewitness’ identification.

Yet according to an investigation by The Palm Beach Post, most area law enforcement agencies failed to adopt those recommendations in their written policies and procedures.

Using Florida’s public records law, The Post gathered and examined written policies, procedures and training materials of 32 agencies from Boca Raton to the Treasure Coast and west to the Glades. Only four agencies didn’t respond to The Post’s request.

The Post looked for those simple safeguards recommended by the Justice Department in 1999.

Not surprisingly, of the few agencies that did have relevant written polices, most were not up to snuff.  Most agencies didn’t have any policies at all:

Of the 32, only three have specific eyewitness ID policies and include key elements recommended by the Justice Department: the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office and the Jupiter and Palm Beach Gardens police departments.

Two other police departments, in the town of Palm Beach and Port St. Lucie, include key elements in their overall policies, but do not have separate eyewitness ID policies.

. . .

In The Post’s request, some agencies cited Florida’s Law Enforcement Handbook of 2010 as their guide.Yet the handbook does not reflect Department of Justice recommendations regarding cautionary instructions, composing lineups or precise documentation. The handbook does not even mandate that six pictures be used in a lineup.

. . .

The final Department of Justice recommendation The Post surveyed for in agencies’ records is the comprehensive documentation of an eyewitness’ identification. Gary Wells – a national eyewitness ID expert who testified before the commission – urges police to document a witness’ precise degree of certainty, right down to the detail of how many seconds or minutes it took for an eyewitness to pick someone.

Only five of the 32 agencies require documenting such a precise degree of certainty in their written procedures.

Yet, when confronted with this information, folks in law enforcement and the prosecutorial community provide the same litany of excuses to not adopt uniform best-practices in this area: It doesn’t matter what the policies say, it matters what officers do in practice; eyewitness misidentification is no longer a problem because we have updated our procedures and cases are not prosecuted solely on identifications; this is just an attack on the integrity of law enforcement; wrongful convictions are just a fluke.  I could go on for much longer.

But this just boils down to plain recalcitrance.  Law enforcement came up with the currently practiced ID procedures not through scientific inquiry which tested the practices’ validity.  Rather, the practices were created by law enforcement for law enforcement, with the sole goal of enhancing prosecutions, rather than enhancing accuracy and reliability.  When those practices have been subjected to scientific scrutiny they have failed miserably.

Things haven’t changed and they won’t change until folks wake up and realize that these reforms efforts are not only to prevent wrongful convictions, but are designed to protect the public and increase the reliability of criminal prosecutions.  Misidentifications are and will be a continuing problem.  The Post article notes two recent local cases, from the past five years, that demonstrate that the problem of suggestive lineups still exists.  We won’t ever be able to eradicate mis-IDs as long as people are making the identifications.  But with the weight of the scientific research pointing towards express reforms, the Department of Justice recommending those reforms, and state and local governments around the nation following suit, we have no excuse for failing to improve our shot at achieving the most reliable form of justice.

One last thing.  kudos to Senator Joe Negron (R-Stuart) for understanding the need for uniform statewide eyewitness identification procedures and his willingness to be a leader on this issue when the Innocence Commission comes up with a recommendation.

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