Florida Innocence Commission Recommends Changes to Photo Lineups
Non-standardized photo identification procedures have lead to too many innocent men and women being falsely identified for committing crimes in which they were not actually involved. Florida, like many other states, does not currently have statewide standards regarding eyewitness photo lineups in criminal cases. The Florida Innocence Commission is working to change that to further prevent innocent people from becoming criminal defendants.
Eyewitness identification is a powerful tool. When an eyewitness identifies a suspect from a photo lineup, it is not uncommon for the identification to lead to the identified person later being convicted of a crime he or she did not commit.
So far, 267 individuals have been exonerated by DNA evidence throughout the United States. Seventy-five percent of those 267 wrongly-convicted individuals were convicted, at least in part, based on eyewitness accounts.
Twelve of the 267 were from Florida. Of those twelve, nine were found guilty based on incorrect eyewitness accounts. The purpose of our criminal justice system is not served when innocent people are misidentified, wrongly-charged, wrongly-convicted and then forced to deal with the consequences of a criminal conviction.
Non-Standardized Identification Procedures May Influence Eyewitnesses
Various factors can influence an eyewitness’ misidentification of a suspect during a photo lineup. Gestures made by investigators or police, whether intentional or not, can affect eyewitness identification. During a photo lineup, even a simple smile or nod while the eyewitness is looking at photos is inappropriate as it could result in misidentification of the wrong person.
When an eyewitness makes a positive photo identification, police may improperly focus investigation efforts on the person identified to the exclusion of all other suspects. Our criminal justice system is far from perfect. Limiting the scope of an investigation and targeting the wrong individual can improperly lead to a guilty verdict.
Proposal for Statewide Standards for Photo Lineups
The Florida Legislature recently considered, but did not pass, the Eye Witness Identification Reform Act, calling for double-blind lineups. In a double-blind lineup, the person who administers the photo lineup to the eyewitness would not know which picture is that of a known suspect and which pictures are not. He or she cannot then intentionally or accidentally influence the eyewitness’s identification.
The Florida Innocence Commission proposes standardizing the display of photos in a photo lineup. The Commission suggests that eyewitnesses be shown mug shots all at once: six photos to a page with three photos in each of two rows, or alternatively, as a lineup consisting of six photos in eight folders, leaving two of the folders empty. Police officers would also have to step away and not talk while the eyewitness or crime victim was looking at the photos.
As long as innocent people are being jailed for crimes they did not commit, based in whole or in part on a faulty eyewitness identification, there is room for improvement in our system. If you’ve been charged with a crime, your first step should be to discuss your options with an experienced criminal defense attorney. Whether you’ve been wrongly accused, made a mistake or a bad decision, a Florida criminal defense lawyer can help you get a second chance.