Mistaken identification by eyewitnesses was a factor in nearly 90 percent of the nation’s first 70 convictions overturned by DNA testing, says the New York-based Innocence Project. The Washington Post reports that Virginia is working to become one of the first states to keep more innocent people out of prison by scrapping the traditional lineup. Mistaken identifications in Virginia have helped convict six of eight defendants later cleared by DNA.
These days, many witnesses are asked to identify suspects from a group of mug shots shown all at once. The Virginia State Crime Commission, a legislative advisory body, is asking law enforcement agencies to adopt a procedure in which witnesses are shown possible suspects or their mug shots one at a time by an investigator who does not know who the true suspect is. Such simple changes can cut mistaken identifications by half or more, studies have shown. “This would put Virginia on the cutting edge of policy to try to eliminate misidentifications,” said Sen. Kenneth W. Stolle, commission vice chairman. New Jersey, North Carolina, and Boston have adopted the procedure, and a smattering of other jurisdictions are testing it. Starting in October, law enforcement recruits in Virginia will learn only the new procedure.