The Texas Senate passed a bill that would require police to adopt written policies when conducting live and photo identification lineups. This is a big step in helping to reduce wrongful convictions, as without proper policies, investigators can sometimes lead witnesses, not necessarily intentionally, to pick a specific suspect out of a lineup.
The bill, by Sen. Rodney Ellis D-Houston, would require police departments to develop written policies that include provisions for “blind” lineups in which the administrators of the lineup don’t know which lineup member is the suspect, guidelines for instructions for witnesses, proper documentation of witness statements, and special guidance for witnesses who are illiterate or who do not speak English.
Several Texas exonerees testified in support of this bill. Texas leads the nation in the number of convicts exonerated by DNA evidence, and most of these cases involved eyewitness misidentification and lineups.
A few states and counties, including Wisconsin, New Jersey, and North Carolina, have policies in place that have improved the quality of lineup results, but the vast majority do not. Pennsylvania legislators should look to Texas as an example of one way to reform our policies on witness identification and lineups in order to make eyewitness identifications more reliable.