Police and Prosecutors Team Up for Better Eyewitness IDs
11/03/2003
New Procedures Will Lead to Stronger Cases, More Justice

MINNETONKA (Monday, November 3, 2003) - In a joint news conference this
morning, Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar, Minnetonka Police Chief
Joy Rikala, Minneapolis Police Chief Robert Olson, Bloomington Police
Chief John Laux and New Hope Police Capt. Jim O'Meara announced a
pilot project that will introduce new procedures to improve the quality
of eyewitness identifications of suspects in lineups.

"We want to make sure that justice is done," said Klobuchar.
"We're more likely to arrest and convict the right person for a
crime when we have stronger eyewitness identifications.  Research in
this area shows that some relatively simple procedural changes can
significantly improve the quality of eyewitness IDs and reduce mistaken
IDs by up to two-thirds.  It's important for police and prosecutors to
always evaluate what we're doing and make improvements whenever
they're warranted and feasible."

Klobuchar added: "These new procedures will improve police
investigations, strengthen prosecutions and better protect the rights of
innocent people who might otherwise be mistakenly identified as
suspects."

Police departments in Minneapolis, Bloomington, Minnetonka and New Hope
will participate in the project.  Police investigators are being trained
and will begin using the new procedures today.

"The new protocol is called double-blind, sequential
identification.," said Minnetonka Police Chief Joy Rikala.  "It's
really a set of procedures that represent the best practices for
conducting eyewitness IDs.  Some of these procedures are already being
used, but we're now bringing them together as a formal protocol."

The protocol includes four elements:

Flash cards.
A set of six different photos will be shown one at a time
(sequentially) instead of all at once (simultaneously).  This is meant
to discourage bias from comparisons among the different photos.

Double-blind review.
The officer displaying the photos will not know who the suspect is or
even whether the suspect is among the photos.  This is meant to prevent
police from accidentally influencing the witness.

Disclaimer.
The witness will be informed that the suspect "may or may not" be
in the photo lineup.  This practice, which is already common among many
police agencies in Hennepin County, is meant to discourage people from
assuming that the suspect must be present in the lineup.

Continuum of identification.
The witness will not be asked for a simple yes-no response about
whether the suspect is in the photo lineup.  Instead, the witness's
level of certainty will be recorded, including comments about what
specific characteristics are similar (or dissimilar) to the suspect they
saw. This is also already a common practice among many police agencies
in Hennepin County.

"The psychology behind these procedures is to have witnesses focus on
their actual memory of the incident and the suspect," said Minneapolis
Police Chief Robert Olson.  "We want to minimize any kind of
extraneous influence or bias in the identification process."

"The costs of changing procedures are minimal when compared with the
benefits," said Bloomington Police Chief John Laux.  "The costs are
really a matter of some extra training for our officers.  The benefits
are stronger, more accurate eyewitness IDs that ultimately make it
easier for police and prosecutors to do our jobs."

Klobuchar and the police chiefs noted that a number of law enforcement
agencies across the country are now beginning to adopt these procedures.
 The New Jersey Attorney General has required police there to use
double-blind, sequential identifications for the past two years.

A video was shown at the news conference that features an experiment by
Iowa State University psychology professor Gary Wells.  The video shows
a mock crime in which the suspect is clearly seen.  A lineup of six
individuals is then shown.  When Wells performed this experiment with
250 test witnesses, all of them identified someone from the lineup, even
though the real suspect was deliberately excluded.

Experts conclude that simple procedural changes -- such as a warning
that the suspect "may or may not" be present in the lineup -- can
significantly improve the quality of eyewitness IDs and minimize
mistaken IDs.  Nationally, the Innocence Project estimates that mistaken
eyewitness testimony has been a key factor in more than two-thirds of
recent wrongful convictions overturned due to DNA evidence.

In Minnesota, Klobuchar said, mistaken identifications have not been a
problem leading to wrongful convictions.  She also cautioned that the
new protocol will not affect every criminal case.  Eyewitness
identification is not a major issue in most criminal cases, she said.
But it can be crucial in serious violent crimes with a suspect who is a
complete stranger, such as rapes and robberies.

As an example, Klobuchar said a mistaken identification did occur --
and was quickly corrected -- in a case three years ago of a woman who
was raped in her New Hope apartment.  The attacker wore a Halloween
mask, which came off briefly during the struggle.

The victim gave police a description and they located a suspect, who
the victim positively identified in a photo lineup.  He was initially
charged with the crime.  But his palm print did not match the one on the
victim's window where the entry occurred, and the police continued their
investigation.

Within a matter of days, they identified another man who also resembled
the suspect description and who lived in the same apartment complex as
the victim.  Charges were dismissed against the initial suspect and the
new suspect, Richard Luers, was charged.  DNA analysis subsequently tied
him to both the New Hope rape and an earlier rape near the University of
Minnesota campus.  Luers was convicted of both rapes and sentenced to 24
years in prison.