Following the Science

In some instances, policy efforts relating to eyewitness misidentification were stalled by claims that the scientific basis for the reforms being sought continues to evolve and has not yet been settled. In response, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) convened a committee to engage in the first-ever comprehensive evaluation of of the current state of the science of eyewitness identification. In October of 2014, the NAS’s resulting report validated and recommended many of the reforms the Innocence Project has long promoted. Specifically, the report recommends that:

  • law enforcement departments train their officers in eyewitness identification;
  • law enforcement administer identification procedures using blind or blinded administration;
  • witnesses affirmatively be asked by law enforcement to assess their certainty as soon as an identification is made and that law enforcement document a statement of confidence; and
  • law enforcement use standard instructions with all eyewitnesses (e.g. “The perpetrator may or may not be among the lineup members you are about to observe”). The committee also recommended that police video record identification procedures.

On the issue of whether a photo array should be administered simultaneously or sequentially, the NAS committee found that further research was needed. The NAS cautions agencies to maintain their current protocol as more research is conducted into the sequential/simultaneous question. If an agency has already adopted a particular presentation method, i.e. sequential or simultaneous, the NAS report does not recommend a change must be made at this time.

NOTE: In light of the National Academy of Science’s 2014 report, “Identifying the Culprit: Assessing Eyewitness Identification”, the Innocence Project awaits further research concerning the merits of the sequential and simultaneous presentation methods.