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Eyewitness identification to get new rules for police administrators

March 27th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

The House Justice Appropriations Committee has unanimously approved legislation this afternoon requiring law enforcement agencies to follow a set of procedures called double blind when conducting live or photo eyewitness identifications. The legislation is a result of witnesses getting it wrong too often.

Alan Crotzer was convicted of a strong arm robbery in 1983 even though he never matched the height or weight first described by the only eyewitness.

“From the beginning, I did not fit the description.” Crotzer told us in 2012.

An Innocence Commission study in 2011 found that  3 out of 4 people released by DNA exonerations were sent to prison by faulty eyewitness testimony.

“So, we want to make sure the right person is convicted” says Rep. Gayle Harrell, who

wants to fix the problem by requiring police to use officers unfamiliar with the crime or suspect when conducting photo or live lineups.

“You would have to have an independent administrator handle it, so anyone working on the case would not know  who is there and wold not be able to influence in any way at all” Harrell told us.

Police agencies that don’t adopt the standards wouldn’t face a penalty, but this: Defense attorneys would be allowed to raise their non-compliance at trial.

Nancy Daniels spent 26 years as a Public Defender. She says the change is a big deal.

“And even if the judge allows the evidence, it can be presented to the jury, so they know the procedures now required by law were not used” which Daniels describes as compelling information for a jury.

And neither the Police Chiefs or Sheriffs are objecting. Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings is President of the FL Sheriff’s Assn.

“We certainly don’t want anyone who is innocent to be tried and convicted” Demings says.

And Harrell is quick to point out, catching the right person the first time makes everyone safer.

Alan Crotzer received fifty thousand dollars for each of the 24 years he wrongfully spent in prison. So getting it wrong can also be costly for taxpayers.

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