Posts Tagged ‘photo lineups’

Exoneration Anniversary: Derrick Williams

Taylor Thornton — April 04, 2018 @ 11:54 AM — Comments (0)

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Happy 7 year exoneration anniversary Derrick Williams!!

In March of 1993 Derrick Williams was found guilty of kidnapping, sexual battery, robbery, grand theft auto, two counts of battery and sentenced to two consecutive life sentences in prison. Williams’ conviction was based strongly on the misidentification of the victim in court.

The victim was attacked inside of her car in her driveway in Palmetto, Florida at 6pm on August 6, 1992. The attacker drove the victim to an orange grove where she was raped, robbed, and beaten before she managed to escape. When the victim worked with police to create a composite sketch, one officer thought that the sketch looked like Derrick Williams. The officer recognized Derrick from his acquittal in a very similar 1981 case of abduction and rape in a Florida orange grove. Williams’ photo was placed in a photo lineup where the victim identified him and she subsequently identified him in a live lineup. Despite his alibi which was corroborated by many witnessed brought by the defense, and the holes in the prosecution’s case, Derrick Williams was convicted on March 19, 1993.

Following his conviction, with the help of the Innocence Project of Florida, Derrick was able to request DNA testing of a shirt that the attacker had worn and later used to cover the victim’s face during the attack. The t-shirt was found in the victim’s backseat after the incident. Despite the negligent destruction of much of the physical evidence in Williams’ case by incineration, they were able to test sweat and skin cells on the collar of the t-shirt. These tests were able to exclude Williams as a possible contributor of this DNA. The Innocence Project of Florida filed a motion for post conviction relief based on the new DNA evidence and the unlawful destruction of exculpatory by the police. Following a two day evidentiary hearing Derrick Williams was granted a new trial on March 29, 2011. On April 4, 2011 the prosecution dismissed the charges and Derrick Williams was released.

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Rocky Mountain Innocence Center’s Recommendations for Improving Eyewitness Testimony

Alejandra de la Fuente — January 11, 2016 @ 2:00 PM — Comments (0)

Eyewitness identification is one of the oldest and most popular types of evidence used in criminal cases. According to Marla Kennedy, the executive director of the Rocky Mountain Innocence Center, faulty eyewitness testimony is the leading cause of wrongful convictions in the United States. She goes on to explain that in over 70 percent of cases where the individual was eventually exonerated by DNA, bad eyewitness identification contributed to the wrongful convicton.

The Rocky Mountain Innocence Center has partnered with the Unified Police Department to come up with better techniques for questioning eyewitnesses in order to hopefully prevent further wrongful convictions in the future. Both the Rocky Mountain Innocence Center and the Unified Police Department share the same goal of convicting the right person for a crime.

The team has recommended updated techniques for administering photo lineups. Instead of showing victims six pictures at the same time and asking them to identify the suspect, they suggest showing victims only one photo at a time. In addition, victims should only be able to view photos for a brief period of time, and be able to view each photo no more than twice. If the victim still cannot identify a suspect, another photo lineup should be conducted at a later time. The reasoning for this, Kennedy explains, is that if a victim cannot identify a suspect within the first ten seconds, the accuracy of an eventual identification drops by eight percent.

Another Rocky Mountain Innocence Center focusing on reforms related to the person administering the photo lineup. They state that the person conducting it should be someone who does not know who the suspect is, rather than the lead detective on the case. This way, officers cannot accidentally give away cues or ask leading questions that could possibly influence the victim’ or eyewitness’s answer.

Members of the Rocky Mountain Innocence Center hope that police departments all over Utah will adopt their recommended techniques.

Because of improved methods and technology in recent years, eyewitness testimony is now rarely solely relied upon. Most departments require additional evidence to support eyewitness identifications. However, regardless of the decreasing reliability upon eyewitnesses, adopting techniques to further ensure innocent people are not wrongfully convicted is essential.

In Florida, there is still no uniform best practice requiring law enforcement agencies to use these updated, evidence-based procedures. Instead we have a hodgepodge of different policies that differ from county to county and agency to agency, which creates uneven administration of justice. It’s time for Florida to join many other states that have implemented the very best eyewitness identification policies to prevent wrongful convictions.

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