Friday, June 15, 2007

How ID Reform Bills Became Laws This Year

A Public Defender blog has another great post up tonight -- this one is about how a Connecticut EyeID reform bill recently died in Committee. The post also asks us for our thoughts on the Bill, so here they are.

The Connecticut Bill looks great. On a quick read, all of the provisions look to be supported by solid science. Many of those same procedures are already being used by police departments around the country to good effect. Police are happy with the procedures, they feel they are getting more reliable IDs, and the cases hold up better in court.

That said, we closely followed ID legislation from around United States this session, and one pretty hard and fast rule developed: Though virtually all bills started out looking like Connecticut's -- with a host of specific best practice requirements -- the key to passage seemed to be pulling back from the specific and compromising on legislation that mandates best practices generally. These new laws then established some sort of committee (with law enforcment members and others) to draft best practice requirements. (I'm thinking about West Virginia and Maryland here). These bills also sometimes included a few more specific, non-controversial requirements, generally instructions to witnesses and written recording requirements.

The "generally-requiring-best-practices-but-leaving-the-specifics-to-commitee" approach is not necessarily a bad development. Police generally seem strongly opposed to a specific list of requirements, but not opposed in general to reform and to good science. A best practices approach allows some time for adjustment, and also allows police to "buy-in" to the reforms. Of course, if police try to delay or defeat the drafting of best practices after these sorts of bills pass, then more specific legislation can always be passed later. But the jurisdictions that have adopted a best-practices-by-Committee approach (for example, Wisconsin) have not experienced those problems, at least not to my knowledge. The more common reaction of police who consider the reforms in good faith is eventual strong support.

So in Connecticut, and other jurisdictions where reform failed this year, it may be worth thinking about a more general approach to reform, or at least being ready to agree on that as a compromise measure the next time around.

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