(April 28, 2017 – Tallahassee, FL) – Today, the Florida Legislature passed critical eyewitness identification reform legislation, taking a significant step forward in preventing wrongful convictions in the state. Senate Bill 312 and House Bill 643, sponsored by Senator Dennis Baxley (Sumter, Lake and Marion) and Representative Gayle B. Harrell (Martin and St. Lucie) respectively, will now go to the governor for a signature. The bill, which is supported by the Innocence Project of Florida, Innocence Project, Florida Police Chiefs Association, Florida Sheriffs’ Association and the public and private criminal defense communities, would ensure that Florida law enforcement agencies use evidence-based practices that have been proven to reduce the risk of eyewitness misidentification.
This legislation would require that lineups are conducted using a double-blind or blinded procedure, and witnesses are instructed that the perpetrator may or may not be present, as recommended by the National Research Council, U.S. Department of Justice, International Association of Chiefs of Police and many others. Double-blind administration means that the officer conducting the lineup does not know the suspect’s identity. Blinded administration is used when double-blind administration is not feasible, and the administrator uses procedure that prevents him or her from seeing which lineup member is being viewed by the witness at a given time, removing any chance of suggestiveness. If these best practices are not followed, a court can consider noncompliance when deciding whether the identification can be admitted into evidence and must instruct the jury that it consider whether law enforcement followed the eyewitness procedures when determining the reliability of a witness’s identification.
“One of the most compelling things a jury can hear is an eyewitness identifying a defendant in court, yet all too often the eyewitness gets it wrong. In Florida, eyewitness misidentification has played a role in 64% of wrongful convictions overturned with DNA evidence. Today, we applaud our lawmakers who took the opportunity prevent future wrongful convictions by passing this critical legislation,” said Seth Miller, Executive Director of the Innocence Project of Florida.
Nationally, eyewitness misidentification is the leading contributing cause of wrongful convictions later overturned through new DNA evidence. The actual culprits in those DNA-based exonerations involving misidentification went on to be convicted of 100 additional violent crimes—including 64 rapes and 17 murders.
Florida is now one of 21 states that have mandated statewide use of blind or blinded eyewitness identification procedures through statute, court action or executive action. In addition to saving lives, it will result in potential cost savings, since there are no costs for implementing these reforms, and these best practices will likely decrease the need for court hearings to decide whether eyewitness identification is admissible at trial. It will also save Florida taxpayers money in state compensation and civil payouts to exonerees, which up to now has cost them $6.6 million.
“Thank you to Florida law enforcement, who came together and supported scientifically based identification procedures in the interest of justice and public safety. Eyewitness identification is a powerful and valuable investigative method, and this improvement to the law gives police the tools they need to more accurately identify a suspect,” added Michelle Feldman, Legislative Strategist for the Innocence Project which is affiliated with the Cardozo School of Law in New York, NY.