Like Global Warming, False Confessions and Mistaken Identifications are known problems. They exist. The arctic is disappearing, and DNA evidence is scientifically exonerating thousands of people who were convicted with false confessions and by eyewitnesses whose identifications were knowingly or unknowingly tainted by sloppy police work.
Like a presidential candidate at a Christian Values Society meeting in Iowa primary season ("I believe in the literal bible and will never accept humans evolved from monkeys!") Florida continues to (mis) place its faith in a jury system that accepts flawed evidence and wrongfully convicts innocent people. And if you think abolishing the death penalty will solve matters, then go spend ten years of your life in prison for a crime you didn't commit and then let us know how you feel.
New York however, has stepped up to the plate as reported in this NY Times Article.
After years of debate and study, a rare coalition of the New York State Bar Association, the District Attorneys Association of New York and the Innocence Project proposed on Tuesday that the state adopt practices to reduce the chances that juries would be swayed by mistaken eyewitnesses or false confessions.
Witnesses would be shown photos of possible suspects by an investigator who was not handling the case, with the goal of eliminating even inadvertent hints or cues about the “right” answer from detectives who might have a suspect in mind.
Once an identification has been made, witnesses would be immediately asked how certain they were of their choice. Witnesses often become more confident over time, so a shaky choice at a police lineup hardens into concrete certainty at trial. A review of 161 wrongful convictions found that 57 percent of the eyewitnesses had not been certain during the initial identifications but had no hesitation when testifying much later during trials,
“Evidence indicates that an eyewitness’s level of confidence in their identification at the time of trial is not a reliable predictor of their accuracy,” the National Research Council found in a major study released in October.
Uncertain witnesses who are given positive feedback about the identifications — “You did great” or “He’s a bad guy, we thought it might be him” — also become more confident about their choices, even if they are wrong, according to a study by Gary L. Wells, a psychologist at Iowa State University.
Among the proposals made on Tuesday, the police would be required to videotape the interrogation of suspects in major felonies. For many years, video cameras were turned on only when a suspect was ready to confess, and there was no record of the hours of interrogation that might have preceded it. Some police departments have started to tape the questioning, but it is not practiced consistently across New York State or even within departments.
“Misidentification and questionable or unreliable statements or confessions are two of the leading causes of wrongful conviction,” said Frank A. Sedita III, the Erie County district attorney and the president of the state’s District Attorneys Association. “What the bill does is simultaneously promote the protection of the innocent and the just prosecution of the guilty. And when you can do both at once, that enhances the integrity of the criminal justice system.”
“For those doubters today, five years from now, we’ll all agree this was a smart thing to do and the right thing to do,” Cyrus Vance Jr., the Manhattan district attorney, said.