What Is The Eyewitness Identification Reform Act?

Legislation / Tuesday, December 5th, 2017

Most of us would like to believe that our criminal justice system works for everyone, and not just “most of the time.” Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. Eyewitness testimony can be a key component in sending some people to prison for the rest of their lives, or even to their deaths with the use of capital punishment. What if that eyewitness testimony cannot be trusted? The Eyewitness Identification Reform Act aims to fix this problem, one of the greatest miscarriages of justice that exist in this country today.

The science involved with this dilemma caught up with the needs of our society a long time ago, but the law enforcement agencies we rely on to keep us safe and secure from criminal wrongdoing haven’t yet applied it. Florida Senate Bill 1206 was introduced in February of 2011 as a way to curb misidentification during eyewitness testimony by forcing law enforcement to rely on scientific best practices. The Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission would be required to draft new training procedures in order to better conduct police lineups, among other things. After only three months of deliberations into the efficacy of the bill, it died.

Some have cited one of the biggest concerns of misidentifying a suspect falls upon the person who administers a lineup or other test of guilt. Senate Bill 1206 would adjust the rulebooks so that a “blind” administrator would be in charge of these procedures. In other words, the person who administers a lineup or other procedure would have no notion of who the suspect might be. In that way, the one administering the test cannot prompt–purposely or mistakenly–the eyewitness to identify one person within the lineup over another.

Had the motion passed, it would have made Florida only the fourth state to adopt such a change at the time. In addition, Florida is one of only ten states to have addressed the problem by that time at all.

Although the bill was struck down, sometimes all it takes is word of mouth to get the ball rolling. Sixteen percent of law enforcement agencies polled in 2011 admitted that they had already taken the bill’s potential resolutions to heart, and were then applying scientific best practices during eyewitness testimony on their own. They weren’t the only ones. This trend was already experiencing an increase in momentum across the country, and now in 2017 the fight for better, smarter procedures to keep innocent bystanders out of prison and actual criminals off the streets continues.