Tuesday, February 20, 2007

New Mexico Eyewitness ID Reform Bill Passes House Judiciary

New Mexico's House Bill 295, the Reliable Eyewitness ID Act, passed out of the House Judiciary Committee last night with a vote of 7-5. The bill now moves on to the House floor. An identical bill made its way through the Senate earlier this month, and reached the House with some minor amendments.

The bill is modeled after the DOJ best practices (PDF) on eyewitness identification procedures, but nevertheless has met fierce resistance from law enforcement throughout the legislative process.

Some key provisions of the bill:

  1. Prior to viewing a lineup, a witness must be instructed that the suspect may or may not be in the lineup

  2. The administrator of a lineup must not know the identity of the suspect

  3. A confidence statement must be recorded immediately following any identification

  4. The lineup administrator must not give any feedback on the "correctness" of any identification

  5. All lineup procedures must be recorded, with both audio and video, including any "remarks" or other commentary made by anyone involved

This is a great bill that incorporates most of the scientifically validated best practices, and has real potential to dramatically reduce wrongful convictions in New Mexico. We will continue to follow it closely as it moves through the legislative process.

Some further reading:

  • Wells/Olson study (PDF) showing the importance of the "might or might not be present" instruction (reducing false IDs by as much as 41.6%)

  • Wells et al. Recommendations for Lineups and Photospreads (PDF), tying best practices to the latest social science, including the importance of the double-blind procedure

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