DOJ Issues Guidance on Getting Better Eyewitness IDs

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The U.S. Justice Department is issuing new guidance to federal agents on how to secure eyewitness identifications, an initiative designed to reflect decades of scientific research and bolster public confidence in the criminal justice system, NPR reports. The policy has two major components: It directs investigators to document or record an eyewitness’s confidence in an identification at the very moment the ID is made, and it encourages federal agents to conduct “blind” or “blinded” photo arrays of suspects in which the agent leading the session doesn’t know which photo represents the prime suspect. “We view this as an important step in doing everything we can to ensure the greatest reliability possible for the evidence we’re using at trial,” said Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates.

Yates said the department based its guidance on research that supports the idea “of just how important it is to get as much detail as possible about just how sure that witness is that this is the guy” long before any trial or court proceeding begins. The guidance from Yates marks the first departmentwide policy, and it applies to such law enforcement components as the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the U.S. Marshals Service. “This DOJ memo reflects a series of best practices recommended by scientists based on research conducted over the past,” said University of Virginia law Prof. Brandon Garrett, author of a book about wrongful convictions.

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