The Proposed Innocence Protection Act Won’t—Unless It Also Curbs Mistaken Eyewitness Identifications

By Margery Malkin Koosed / Ohio State Law Journal, on 1 January 2002

This article contends that legislatures should adopt measures to assure greater reliability in the eyewitness testimony introduced in capital cases. Erroneous eyewitness identification is one of the most frequent causes of mistaken convictions and executions. Decades ago, the United States Supreme Court crafted due process and right to counsel constitutional doctrines to curb identification procedures that gratuitously enhanced the risk of mistake. While initial interpretations favored a greater judicial role in preventing such abuses, later rulings retreated. Present constitutional rules do not suffice due to the narrowness of their definition and the weakness of the remedial sanctions allotted. The proposed Innocence Protection Act and similar state legislation trust DNA testing to avert mistaken executions. But testing requires biological material that is often not available in capital prosecutions, and so DNA cannot detect all the innocents among those capitally prosecuted. To avert mistaken convictions and executions, legislative reforms need to go beyond DNA, and avert mistakes arising from erroneous eyewitness identifications. Studies show this is one of the most common sources of unjust conviction, and that suchmistakes may well be on the rise. Federal and state legislation should be adopted that provides a stronger curb on suggestive identification practices that gratuitously increase the risk of executing the innocent. The Recommendations for Lineups and Photospreads, developed by the American Psychology/Law Society (AP/LS) in 1998, are an appropriate starting point for legislatures (or state courts exercising their supervisory powers or interpreting state constitutional provisions). Adopting such guidelines will reduce the risk of error in capital cases, with little or no expense borne by the states. Further, to assure that these more reliable procedures will be used during capital case investigations and prosecutions, legislatures and courts should, minimally, adopt an exclusionary rule of the type first announced by the United States Supreme.

  • Document type Article
  • Countries list United States
  • Themes list Innocence,