New law includes changes for eyewitness identification

Window on the West

Opinion column

by Mary Rupert

The state law will be changing July 1 on eyewitness identification and testimony in Kansas.

The legislation passed this year through efforts by State Sen. David Haley, D-4th Dist., and was signed into law by the governor.

“Wrongful convictions are often based on erroneous eyewitness identification,” Sen. Haley said.

Sen. David Haley
Sen. David Haley

He said that the Innocence Project, a national organization lobbying on behalf of those who are wrongfully incarcerated, estimated that two-thirds to three-quarters of all wrongful convictions were due to erroneous eyewitness testimony.

“I am committed to reducing the number of those wrongfully convicted of crimes they didn’t commit,” he said.

Sen. Haley said recently that although much of the legislation introduced by Wyandotte County legislators faces a hostile, stifling environment in Topeka, there are a few of his bills that pass.

“I take pleasure in small accomplishments,” he said.

The change in eyewitness identification policy that goes into effect July 1 was brought to Sen. Haley’s attention by Alvin Sykes, a human rights activist in Kansas City, Kan.

Sykes said the Innocence Project brought it to his attention, then he brought it to Sen. Haley’s attention.

An award is scheduled to be presented tonight by the Innocence Project to Sen. Haley in Excelsior Springs, Mo., in recognition of his leadership and advocacy, with Sykes to accept it on his behalf.

Sykes said that law enforcement agencies will be issuing written policies on eyewitness identification under the provisions of this new law. The bill had the support of some major law enforcement officials in the state.

For example, instead of asking an eyewitness which one of the persons in a lineup is the one he saw, the law enforcement agencies will have to let him know there also may be no one in the lineup that he saw.

The law recommends that an officer follow a “blind” procedure for lineups, in which he doesn’t look at the person being viewed by the witness, in order not to give the witness cues.

Also, those who are not suspects and are appearing in the lineup should match the description given by the eyewitness, according to the guidelines.

In addition, the new law recommends the eyewitness make a statement to the officer right after viewing the lineup as to his confidence in the identification, and that the officer write out a statement exactly quoting what the witness said about his confidence level.

Many organizations have signed off on these guidelines as best practices, according to a statement from the Innocence Project, including the International Association of Chiefs of Police, Kansas County and District Attorneys Association and National Academy of Sciences.

According to the Innocence Project, DNA evidence has proven some of the wrongful convictions. While some persons were put into prison for crimes they didn’t commit, those who actually committed the crimes went on to commit additional violent crimes of which they were later convicted.

“About 8 percent of the people, those currently incarcerated, actually are wrongfully convicted,” Sen. Haley said. “If you think about it, if it’s just one of 8 percent, it’s a nightmare, a high average.”

With more than 10,000 people in Kansas prisons currently, if the statistic holds up, it means that 800 people are currently in Kansas prisons that did not actually do the crime they were convicted of, Sen. Haley said.

“To me, 1 percent is too high,” Sen. Haley said. “If you’re one of the 800 people in a Kansas prison, it’s too high.”

To reach Mary Rupert, editor, email maryr@wyandottedaily.com.

One thought on “New law includes changes for eyewitness identification”

  1. My Name is Cynthia Burch and i know this law needs to change. i have a son who was wrongfully accused of robbery charges and due to the victims was never given a line up interview or no other form of interview of eyewitness procedure of my son. Neither by the District Attorney over the case or his Public defender attorney. during trial his Public defender knew he had the right to object to the eyewitness indentification of my son and he refuse to because he 2 had been against my son once he was given the case. during my son trial their were many victims who stated in the court on the witness stand who openly stated they could not identify my son as one of the defendants yet he was still charged with their crime as well. also the Judge went to sleep during my son Jury trial. 2 times in 2 separate court rooms. during the trial the District Attorney showed one of the victims my son Face Book profile picture and a clipping from the news article from his cell phone and because in the victims orginal statement he could not identify my on but did identify the orginal defendants who committed the crime. Due to the District Attorney actions the victim he showed this information to texted this information to another victim and during questioning by the District Attorney. the victims could only describe my son as he looked on his profile picture the District Attorney showed him during the trial outside the court room. My son have deformities if they could identify my son other than from the picture of his profile picture which only showed his head from the side of his face. not a clear picture of his actual face. they would have been able to say other things other than he has a long face and big lips. the victims couldn’t identify any of my son deformities that are actual visible on his face and mouth. i am fighting for all the unjustice that was done within my son entire case. so if this law needs to change it should have been changed because my son along with other inmates males and females rot in the prison system for something they did not do and the District Attorney’s and Public Defenders are getting away with violating United State Citizens rights to freedom of Justice. i Have my son entire case in my hand and i am reaching out to law makers and Judges and our Legislation for Justice. My name is Cynthia Burch and my email address is cindyblue143050@gmail.com/ I hope i can help in any way to make our legal system where it is Justice for All

    Sincerely,
    Cynthia Burch

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