Wednesday, June 03, 2015

N.H. OKs New Eyewitness Policy

Concord — The state Attorney General’s Office announced on Monday new police guidelines for eyewitness identification that are meant to prevent wrongful convictions, a problem New Hampshire has yet to encounter but that has dogged other parts of the country in recent years.

The changes, crafted with help from law enforcement and the Innocence Project, a national nonprofit that works to exonerate prisoners through DNA evidence, include techniques such as double-blind administration, in which an officer presenting a photo array to a witness is unaware of who the actual suspect is.

Others include concealing unique facial features, videotaping the identification process and documenting how confident a witness is in his or her selection. Departments are also encouraged to show at least five "fillers," or people who look similar to the suspect, and to inform witnesses that the suspect may or may not be in the lineup.

"The attorney general and this office feel very strongly that by adopting these procedures it can only serve to improve the quality of otherwise high-quality investigations," Deputy Attorney General Ann Rice said at a morning press conference.

The changes are not mandatory, but police officials said several departments have already begun adopting them, and that those that don’t will be subject to legal scrutiny in future cases involving eyewitness evidence.

"The protocols being announced today are the gold standard," said William Brooks, a Massachusetts police chief who trains departments across the country on the best practices for obtaining eyewitness evidence.

Fourteen states including Vermont, Rhode Island and Connecticut have similar standards in place, according to Amshula Jayaram, a state policy advocate for the Innocence Project. Massachusetts is considering adopting them as well, Jayaram said.

The Innocence Project has secured 329 exonerations, about 72 percent of which involved eyewitness evidence since its start in 1992.

"Eyewitness identification is the number one contributing factor to wrongful convictions that were proven by DNA evidence," Jayaram said.

None of those exonerations were in New Hampshire, and Rice said she is unaware of any wrongful convictions in the state, though one case, involving the 1971 murder of 18-year-old Susan Randall, is currently being contested.

Enfield police Chief Richard Crate, who heads the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police, said officials began receiving training from Brooks in December. Other trainings are scheduled. The reforms announced yesterday were officially issued in April.

Crate said photo arrays and in-person lineups are used relatively infrequently, especially in rural areas, where suspects are often known by witnesses.

Original report here

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