The House passed a bill Tuesday changing how police conduct criminal lineups in an effort to improve eyewitness reliability. The formerly contentious issue passed the chamber unanimously after a short debate.
Judiciary Committee Co-Chairman Rep. Gerald Fox said the broad support of this year’s bill shows that sometimes creating a taskforce to study a controversial issue actually pays off.
That’s what happened last year when there wasn’t enough support for a similar bill aimed at improving the same criminal lineup process.
Fox served on the taskforce along with other members of the committee and both law enforcement and judicial officials. The group heard from experts and examined scientific studies for almost a year.
“It was truly an eye-opener for myself and many of the members of the taskforce when we looked out how science has advanced in terms of the way we handle eyewitness identification procedures,” he said.
Crime witnesses frequently misidentify suspects in criminal lineups because of the human tendency to pick out the person who looks the most like the offender even if the offender’s not in the lineup, according to studies.
They can also be led, either inadvertently or intentionally, by police to pick out the suspect the officer believes to be guilty.
The bill requires that during a lineup, witnesses see potential offenders, or their pictures, one at a time instead of all at once. That reduces a witness’s ability to pick the face that looks most like the offender, rather than the actual offender.
It also requires that whenever possible the officer conducting the lineup either not know which person is believed to be the perpetrator, or not know which picture the witness is examining. That keeps police from indicating to the witness, either consciously or unconsciously, which person they believe is guilty.
The legislation will now join a growing list of House bills awaiting action on the Senate calendar.