As Georgia lawmakers convene to review eyewitness identification procedures in the state, a new study by the Georgia Innocence Project has revealed that 83% of Georgia police agencies have no written rules on handling eyewitness identifications. Six men have been exonerated in Georgia after DNA evidence proved their innocence and “every single one of those original convictions was based on faulty identifications,” notes Representative Stephanie Stuckey Benfield, who chairs the study committee and has introduced legislation to tighten eyewitness guidelines in the state.

The study committee meetings will include testimony from law enforcement officials, legal experts, DNA exonerees, and others commenting on the state’s existing eyewitness identification standards. According to the Georgia Innocence Project, which will present its recent findings during the meetings, only 9% of police departments that responded to their recent survey used Peace Officer Standards and Training guidelines for eyewitness matters. Eleven percent of departments don’t conduct lineups at all, relying instead on the Georgia Bureau of Investigations or local sheriff’s officials to perform these duties.

Supporters of eyewitness identification reform point to techniques being tried in other cities or recommended in research studies. Among the possible reforms is the implementation of a double-blind procedure in which neither the witness nor the officer conducting a lineup knows who the suspect is so that the officer does not unintentionally give out hints to the witness. Another possible reform requires “confidence statements” from witnesses after they single out lineup suspects so they can record how certain they are before their memories gel over time. Of the more than 200 convictions nationwide that have been overturned through DNA evidence, including some death penalty cases, incorrect eyewitness identification was a factor in more than 75% of the cases.

Benfield concluded, “We really hope at the end of these hearings, we have an active conversation going that includes the Legislature, law enforcement and prosecutors and can reach a consensus on the need for eyewitness identification reform.”
(Atlanta Journal-Constitution, September 17, 2007 and Savannah Morning News, September 17, 2007). See Innocence and Recent Legislative Developments.