When eyewitnesses pick a crime suspect out of a photo lineup, the police are supposed to ask them how confident they are they’ve made the right choice. Some prosecutors say they don’t want officers to do that, reports the Raleigh News & Observer. The North Carolina Criminal Justice Education and Training Standards Commission is requiring that officers learn to ask the so-called confidence question. It’s meant to help prevent wrongful convictions. Opponents say the question injects reasonable doubt into investigations that defense lawyers can exploit later. The executive committee of the N.C. Conference of District Attorneys came out against the practice this month. “It’s manufacturing reasonable doubt where the issue wouldn’t exist,” said District Attorney Jim Woodall of Orange and Chatham counties.
About 75 percent of the 174 prisoners exonerated by DNA evidence since 1989 were convicted based on false identifications, says the New York-based Innocence Project. New Jersey, North Carolina, and Boston have been among the first to promote the new photo lineup procedures. Starting Jan. 1, all new North Carolina officers began learning the procedure in basic law enforcement courses. Last week, the training standards commission ordered that current officers learn the procedures next year. Police typically do not conduct lineups with suspects standing in a line beyond one-way glass. That’s the television version. Instead, witnesses pick a suspect from a handful of photos shown at once. That, experts say, encourages the witness to pick the one that most resembles the perpetrator — even if the perpetrator is not among them. Branny Vickory, the district attorney in three counties and president of the district attorneys conference, says that when the “confidence” question becomes “a standard part of the identification process, it opens the door to an argument that this person is not 100 percent certain.”