Works to correct for high rate of mistaken identifications
by Brian Leubitz
TV gives a strange impression of the justice system. Jurors come in thinking that there are huge fancy crime labs where money no object in pursuit of justice. Except that, in this climate particularly, money is very much an object. And on the other side of that is the fact that people just really prefer hearing from other people that were there, that saw something, over a number on a chart.
So, eyewitness testimony is compelling. The problem however is that our eyes, and our memories, are really not that great at these types of things. We miss big things in even relatively uncomplicated situations, like say, the video to the right. And when somebody gets on the stand and says that they are just totally sure that they saw the defendant, it tends to get believed. Yet, it leaves much to be desired. Just ask Ronald Ross.
Ross is due to be released from prison this month after spending years in state prison on the basis of a wrong identification. Following efforts by the Northern California Innocence Project, prosecutors in Alameda County have said they will ask a judge to release Ross, who was convicted of attempted murder in a 2006 shooting.
"The injustice to Ronald Ross was not the only terrible result in the Alameda County case," Asm. Tom Ammiano said. "There was also the fact that the true culprit went free and committed other crimes because police stopped looking for him. This bill will reduce the chances of both of those problems."
The bill requires trial judges to give juries instructions about witness identification procedures. The instruction would tell jurors they could take into account the way in which identification took place, and whether it met certain criteria. The presence of that instruction would create an incentive for investigators to use more careful procedures.
Police are stretched more thin than ever, and certainly there is risk of creating ever more burdensome regulations. However, when it comes to the risk of incorrectly locking somebody up with some very powerful evidence, a little extra legwork could go a long way.