Voluntary Adoption of Evidence-Based Practices by Local Law Enforcement: Eyewitness Identification Procedures in Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska
45 Pages Posted: 28 Apr 2017 Last revised: 4 Nov 2017
Date Written: April 4, 2017
Eyewitness misidentification has played a role in over seventy percent of DNA exonerations in the United States, making it a leading contributor to wrongful convictions. Though the importance of eyewitness testimony in criminal investigations is undeniable, the reliability of both human memory and the procedures traditionally used by law enforcement for making identifications have been called into question in recent decades. In 1999 the National Institute of Justice released a report that included a set of recommendations and encouraged law enforcement agencies to consider the voluntary adoption of several reforms of traditional eyewitness identification practices in order to increase the overall reliability of the identifications made in their agencies. These recommendations were based on social science research (i.e. evidence-based practices) and were supported by a consistent body of empirical findings that have continued to be bolstered by additional research, including a 2014 report by the National Academy of Sciences. In 2013, in conjunction with the NIJ, the Police Executive Research Forum conducted a national survey of law enforcement agencies in order to determine the extent to which these recommendations had been adopted in state and local agencies. The study concluded that most law enforcement “agencies have not fully implemented all of the recommendations from the NIJ Guide.”
This article examines local law enforcement eyewitness identification procedures in a five-state region of the Midwest consisting of Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska. Part I begins by providing background on the use of eyewitness identification and issues commonly associated with misidentifications. It identifies reforms that have been proposed to increase the accuracy and reliability of eyewitness identifications and explains the legal framework for use of this evidence. Part II provides a glimpse at the state of reforms nationally by summarizing the 2013 PERF survey on the adoption of best practices by law enforcement and presenting procedural reforms in the states. Next, Part III presents data from a recent study which assessed the eyewitness identification procedures used by local law enforcement agencies in Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska. It then examines recent policy developments in each of these states. Finally, Part IV gauges opportunities for collaboration, education, and evidence-based policy reform at the local level.
Keywords: Wrongful convictions, eyewitness identification, criminal justice, innocence reform
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