Colorado adopts eyewitness-testimony standards

Eyewitness identifications in criminal investigations are notoriously unreliable, as Nat Stein wrote about in The Colorado Independent in February. Old-fashioned lineups lead to false convictions; innocent people rot in jail.

At the Statehouse, lawmakers have been working on a fix, and yesterday, Governor John Hickenlooper signed a bipartisan eyewitness-testimony bill into law.

All Colorado law enforcement officers are now required to run lineups using scientifically proven techniques that help witnesses do a better job picking out the right perpetrator. The bill mandates include the following:

1) Blind identification

The officers running the lineups will not know who the suspects are. That way, witnesses won’t get clued in about who the officers think committed crimes.

2) Missing suspects

Officers will say that suspects might not be in lineups so that witnesses do not feel obliged to pick somebody.

 3) Testing confidence

Immediately after lineups, witnesses will be asked to measure their confidence levels about the people they identified. This will help jurors evaluate the accuracy of testimonies.

“Protecting the innocent is essential to a sound criminal justice system,” said bill sponsor Rep. Daniel Kagan in a press release from the Innocence Project. “This bill helps ensure that mistaken identifications do not lead to innocent people going to prison.”

Photo Credit: Kelly Norwood, Creative Commons, Flickr.