D.C. Changes Justice Practices In Effort to Avoid Wrongful Convictions


Courts and police in Washington, D.C., will change how they conduct lineups of suspects, when they notify defendants about informants, and how long they retain criminal trial records, all in response to errors that have put innocent people in prison, the Washington Post reports. A task force created by Superior Court Chief Judge Lee Satterfield recommended that police use computers and staff not associated with a particular case to administer photo lineups to prevent influencing potential witnesses. The court acknowledged that DNA often has cleared defendants long after their convictions, so officials will by March begin keeping trial records permanently rather than destroying them after 10 years.

Courts will begin giving criminal defendants earlier notice of any information that might impeach police informants — such as their criminal record and whether they have been paid, won a plea deal or other inducement, or cooperated with police or prosecutors in the past. Such information will be turned over at least two weeks before trial if it does not endanger witnesses, officials said. Previously, defendants got that information a few hours or days before trial. The changes place the capital on a path undertaken by many state legislatures, police agencies, and court systems in response to wrongful convictions discovered in recent years.

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