TX Witness ID Reforms After Mistaken Rape Conviction Called Success


The New Yorker tells the story of how Texas legislators passed laws in 2011 to change the way eyewitness identifications are handled in the criminal investigative process. It happened in the case of Tim Cole, who was granted the first posthumous pardon in Texas history after another man confessed to a rape for which Cole had been convicted and served a long prison term. The laws created an advisory panel on wrongful convictions, increased state compensation to exonerees, and required police to be trained in more advanced lineup practices, including sequential lineups, in which photos of suspects are presented to witnesses one at a time rather than in a photo array.

The reforms “are all good changes, and it's not something that's difficult,” said police Sgt. Jason Lewis in Lubbock, where the Cole case occurred. “This actually helps the investigation, because you want your witnesses to be credible and you want them to be correct.” Research in Austin between 2008 and 2011 shows that the use of sequential lineups substantially “reduces mistaken identifications with little or no reduction in accurate identifications.” said Jeff Blackburn of the Innocence Project of Texas, “In terms of conducting eyewitness identification, Texas is doing better than any state in the Union.”

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