(OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – May 10, 2019) The Innocence Project and the Oklahoma Innocence Project praised Governor J. Kevin Stitt for signing bipartisan legislation to protect against the leading causes of wrongful convictions. Senate Bill 798 requires the use of evidence-based practices that prevent eyewitness misidentification, and Senate Bill 636 requires law enforcement to record suspect interrogations for murder and rape cases, a key protection against false confessions.
In Oklahoma, 11 wrongful convictions involved eyewitness misidentification and five involved false confessions since 1989, according to the National Registry of Exonerations. These cases cost taxpayers nearly $42 million in state compensation and civil payments.
“The new laws will protect the life and liberty of innocent Oklahomans, help law enforcement obtain more accurate evidence, and protect taxpayers,” said Vicki Behenna, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Innocence Project. “Senator Julie Daniels, Senator Kay Floyd and Representative Chris Kannady provided real leadership on these issues. We’ve also been proud to partner with law enforcement for statewide training on best practices.”
“Many agencies – including the Oklahoma and Tulsa Police Departments – have implemented excellent policies that go even beyond what is required by the new laws,” said Senator Daniels (R-Bartlesville). “These measures will ensure consistent use of evidence-based practices for preventing wrongful convictions throughout the state, while providing agencies with flexibility to adopt policies that are right for them.”
“The newly enacted legislation exemplifies Oklahoma’s leadership and important work on criminal justice reform,” said Representative Chris Kannady (R-Cleveland). “Evidence-based practices ensure accurate convictions, and provides consistent best practices for the brave men and women that serve in law enforcement.”
“Our state is taking an important step to protect innocent Oklahomans from wrongful convictions with these new laws, which is important for justice and public safety,” said Senator Kay Floyd (D-Oklahoma City).
This new legislation positions Oklahoma as a national leader on criminal justice reform – making it the 25th state that requires recording of certain suspect interrogations in their entirety. In addition, the U.S. Department of Justice has a policy requiring all federal law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, to record custodial interrogations for suspects of any crimes.
Eyewitness identification best practices have been adopted by 24 states and all federal law enforcement agencies. Senate Bill 798 requires law enforcement agencies to adopt written policies with the following four key procedures, which are endorsed by the National Research Council, the nation’s leading independent scientific entity, the U.S. Department of Justice, International Association of Chiefs of Police, American Bar Association, and many other organizations:
- Blind or blinded administration of lineups, meaning the officer conducting the procedure does not know the suspect’s identity, or if that is not practical, uses a technique of blinded administration in which the officer may know the suspect’s identity but is prevented from seeing which lineup member is being viewed by the witness at a given time, preventing any suggestiveness.
- Eyewitness instructions that the perpetrator may or may not be present in the procedure.
- Proper selection of fillers, the non-suspects in the procedure, to generally match the eyewitness’s description of the perpetrator and do not make the suspect noticeably stand out.
- Eliciting a confidence statement, asking the eyewitness to state in his or her own words the level of certainty in the identification immediately after it is made.
This legislative victory was a collaborative effort between the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with the Cardozo School of Law in New York, New York and the Oklahoma Innocence Project (OKIP).