Florida Legislature Introduces New Safeguards to Reform Eyewitness Identification Procedures

When a crime has been committed, there are several types of evidence that may be introduced and admitted to show that the criminal defendant is either guilty or innocent of committing the crime. The overall impact of the evidence depends on the type of evidence it is, who is bringing in the evidence, and the credibility of the witness in the event that the evidence is testimonial. However, more and more, our criminal justice system is seeing the extent to which eyewitness testimony is unreliable, and an eyewitness’s memory is not as crisp and fresh as he or she seems to believe. According to one study, in the State of Florida, more than 64% of the cases that are later exonerated by DNA evidence, the suspect was convicted as a result of an eyewitness’s testimony, indicating that the criminal defendant was the perpetrator of the crime. There is a lot of stock that is put into an eyewitness’s testimony that it is surprising when we find out how ineffectual eyewitnesses actually are when it comes to indicating the right person in the crime.

If you believe the eyewitness who selected you from a lineup was unduly influenced by the police or anyone in the investigation, it is important to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney who can identify lapses in the witness’s testimony and help secure a fair trial. Please contact West Palm Beach criminal defense attorney William Wallshein for a confidential consultation.

Eyewitness Identification Reform Act

In a recent bill that was submitted to the Senate, and a corresponding one in the House, Florida is looking to update the standards used when receiving eyewitness testimony and the correct way in which lineups should be performed. Suspect lineups occur after a crime, when, based on the description given to the police by the eyewitness, the police bring several suspects that fit the description into a one-way mirrored room, where the witness can look at them and determine if one of them is the perpetrator of the crime. It is possible that none of the suspects brought in have actually committed the crime. The police may also do a photo lineup where instead of showing the eyewitness a group of suspects, the police may provide a book of photos to see if any of the photos represent the perpetrator that the eyewitness saw at the scene of the crime.

Why the Need for Safeguards?

Because of the malleability of an eyewitness’s memory and the influence that investigators may have on the eyewitness in determining who perpetrated the crime, Florida seeks to add additional safeguards to ensure that lineups, whether in person or through photographs, are done appropriately, without any undue influence on the witness to choose a suspect, or one suspect over another.

Requirements of the Reform within the Bill

According to the bill, any live lineup must be conducted by an independent administrator. This is a person who is not a member of the investigative team that is investigating the criminal offense and is a person who does not know which of the persons in the lineup is the suspect. Where an independent administrator cannot be found, a photograph lineup may be used but with additional safeguards that must be put into place to ensure that the process is neutral and to ensure that the lineup administrator does not know which photographs are being presented to the eyewitness. The alternative method that would allow for a neutral process in lieu of an independent administrator would be approved by the Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission.

To ensure neutrality in the process, as part of the safeguards, the eyewitness will be informed that the perpetrator may or may not be in the lineup, that the lineup administrator does not know the suspect’s identity or who are the individuals in the lineup, that the eyewitness does not need to make a selection, and that the eyewitness person should be as invested in determining the suspect as he/she is in determining the innocent parties.

Please contact West Palm Beach criminal defense attorney William Wallshein for a confidential consultation.