They’ve failed before: Will new CA lineup proposals fly?

A California man was identified from a photo lineup some years back by witnesses who targeted him as the shooter in an attempted murder. He was sentenced to a 53-year prison term.

The witnesses were wrong. The man was actually an hour away from the crime scene at his workplace when the shooting occurred.

Another problem surfaced, too. The man’s photo was reportedly at least eight years old. A police officer took it simply because the individual lived in known gang territory in Los Angeles.

The injustice was ultimately remedied. The man was released from prison, but only after having spent seven years of his life confined behind bars

That tale features in a recent Los Angeles Times report noting the efforts of two state legislators to enact standard guidelines statewide for police departments conducting live and photo lineups of criminal suspects.

Many states already follow protocols developed by researchers to increase objectivity into lineup practices and outcomes. California is not among them, with police officers having considerable discretion at the local level concerning policies and procedures.

The legislators want that changed immediately. They seek to make the following and additional practices mandatory:

  • “Blind” lineups pursuant to which overseeing officers do not know a suspect’s identity
  • General similarity of all individuals in a lineup
  • Unedited videotaping of the procedure
  • Written assessment from the witness concerning his or her confidence level in any identification made

Such changes have been pushed unsuccessfully many times in previous years. Supporters are especially optimistic of passage this time, though, pointing to the confirmed effectiveness in states that have already adopted more evidence-based standards.

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