Better Witness ID Methods Sought By Ma. DA

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Responding to a series of wrongful convictions in Massachusetts, Norfolk District Attorney William Keating wants the 27 police departments in his county to abandon the traditional way of conducting lineups and the photograph displays that crime witnesses are shown to identify suspects, reports the Boston Globe. Keating wants police officers conducting lineups not to know which person is the actual suspect, so that the witness is not influenced, deliberately or accidentally, by the officer’s reaction. Witnesses would be shown photographs of suspects one at a time, instead of in groups, a method approved by the U.S. Justice Department in 1999 that has been shown to produce more accurate identifications.

Keating emphasized that there might be circumstances when police cannot comply. In general, however, he contended that the methods will result in better police work and predicted that the state’s 10 other district attorneys will follow suit. “This is a good thing for law enforcement,” said Keating, the district attorney for 5 years. “It’s a two-fold benefit. You’re potentially screening people out who are not involved in criminal activity, earlier, and we’re building stronger cases.” In 2001, New Jersey became the first state to require police to use the newer methods, after the state attorney general issued a directive. Other communities across the country have smaller pilot programs.


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