The California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, a blue-ribbon panel established by the state legislature to study and review the death penalty and related matters in California, has proposed significant changes in the use of eyewitness identification in California courts. The commission called on legislators to pass a bill requiring the attorney general’s office to convene a task force to develop guidelines for new procedures and trainings in eyewitness identification. It also urged a dozen specific procedural reforms aimed at improving the accuracy of the current system, including adopting double-blind and sequential identification procedures and changing witness identification methods using lineups or photo arrays so that individuals are presented sequentially rather than simultaneously.

Citing serious problems with cross-racial identifications that have led to wrongful convictions, the commission noted, “Research has consistently confirmed that cross-racial identifications are not as reliable as within-race indentifications.” Members of the commission based their most recent recommendations on a series of studies examining the causes of wrongful convictions. According to the Innocence Project at the Cardozo School of Law in New York, mistaken identifications have been involved in nearly three times as many wrongful conviction cases as the next most common factor. A University of Michigan Law School study published in 2005 noted that “the risk of error is greater in cross-racial identifications” and found that mistaken eyewitness identification was involved in 88% if wrongful rape and sexual assault convictions.

The announcement was the first set of recommendations from the commission, which is made up of prosecutors, defense attorneys, law professors, and other experts. In addition to eyewitness identification, the commission is also set to investigate issues such as false confessions, perjured testimony, mishandling of forensic evidence, withholding of exculpatory evidence and incompetent defense lawyers. The group has until December 2007 to issue its final report and recommendations. (Los Angeles Times, April 14, 2006). See the Commission’s Web site. See also, Innocence.