Eyewitness Identifications and Police Practices: A Virginia Case Study
Forthcoming, 2 Virginia Journal of Criminal Law 1 (2014)
20 Pages Posted: 26 Aug 2013 Last revised: 23 Mar 2014
Date Written: August 26, 2013
Over three decades of social science research has powerfully shown that lineup procedures really matter and that eyewitness errors predictable result from substandard lineups. Yet traditionally, many police departments had no written policies at all on conducting photo arrays or lineups. In response, more police departments, prosecutors, state courts and legislatures have acted to improve identification procedures. Although much has changed in the past decade, less is known about how many police departments have not yet adopted best practices. This Essay reports the results of a 2013 survey conducted of lineup procedures in Virginia, where a new state model policy was adopted in 2011 in response to a series of DNA exonerations caused by eyewitness misidentifications, as well as concern with the slow pace of adoption of best practices. Of the 201 law enforcement agencies that responded, 144 supplied eyewitness identification policies. Troubling findings included that in total, only 29% required blind lineup procedures and only 40% made blind lineup procedures available even as an option. Only 6% adopted the revised model policy. The results suggest that institutional inertia, and not policy choices, explain the slow pace of adoption of best practices. As a result, dissemination of best practices by state policymakers may not be enough, and stronger regulatory measures may be required to safeguard the accuracy of criminal investigations.
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