Category Archives: Eyewitness identification

Update on the National Registry of Exonerations

In case you haven’t been able to check in on the National Registry of Exonerations lately, here’s an excerpt from the most recent data.  Note the total is now up to 1,512, and the trend line is definitely UP.

exon dna non

exon cont fact

exon fact crime

I won’t belabor you by pointing out some of the more obvious observations.  Just a few minutes of study will (should) lead you to some very clear conclusions.

It has been reported that the folks at the Registry are hard at work trying to incorporate the exonerations being generated by the newly formed “conviction integrity units” (CIU’s).  For these cases the prosecutors running the CIU’s may not be very motivated to have their exonerations logged into the Registry.

I can’t gush enough about how critical and important this data is.  It is this kind of HARD DATA that will provide the foundation for much needed and long overdue justice system reform.

Police Want to Revoke Exoneree Bennie Starks’ Certificate of Innocence

Bennie Starks was released from prison in 2006, after serving 20 years for a rape that DNA proved he did not commit.  He was fully exonerated in 2013, and was granted a Certificate of Innocence by the court.

Starks is now suing the Waukegan, IL police department and the forensic experts who falsely testified against him.  As a consequence of this law suit, the Waukegan police are trying to have Starks’ Certificate of Innocence revoked. Their fear is that the Certificate of Innocence will be a deciding factor in Starks’ civil law suit for compensation.

Dr. C. Michael (Mike) Bowers is a California dentist and enlightened forensic odontologist. He also edits a blog called Forensics in Focus.  Dr. Bowers was involved in the exoneration of Bennie Starks, and has posted his comments about this on his blog here.

Ricky Jackson Prison Release Video

On Wednesday, November 19, Nancy Petro reported on this blog about the exoneration of Ricky Jackson after 39 years in prison.  See that story here.

CNN has posted a great video of his release from prison.  See the 2 minute CNN video here.

National Academy of Sciences Releases Landmark Report on Memory and Eyewitness Identification, Urges Reform of Police Identification Procedures

The Innocence Project has posted a notice on its website, with a link to a press release, about the recently released report by the Nation Academy of Sciences on memory and eyewitness identification.

From the report:  “the legal standard that most courts use regarding the admissibility of eyewitness testimony was established before most of the scientific research was conducted.”

The report endorses the following procedures for police lineups:

  • Blind Administration — Research shows that the risk of misidentification is sharply reduced if the police officer administering a photo or live lineup is not aware of who the suspect is. This prevents the witness from picking up intentional or unintentional clues from the officer conducting the lineup.
  • Confidence Statements — Immediately following a lineup, the eyewitness should be asked to describe in his or her own words how confident he or she is in the identification. As the report notes, the level of confidence a witness expresses at the time of trial is not a reliable predictor of accuracy. Having the witness describe their level of confidence at the time an identification is made will provide juries with a useful tool for judging the accuracy of the identification.
  • Instructions — The person viewing the lineup should be told that the perpetrator may not be in the lineup and that the investigation will continue regardless of whether the witness identifies a suspect.
  • Videotape the procedure — The report recommends that police electronically record the identification procedure to preserve a permanent record of the procedure.

Most recent data from the National Registry of Exonerations shows that for the 1,467 wrongful convictions currently in the registry, 35% had mistaken eyewitness identification as a contributing factor.

See the Innocence Project posting here.

Jennifer Thompson Promotes the Justice for All Act

Jennifer Thompson has been featured on the WCB before.  She authored, along with Ronald Cotton, the book Picking Cotton.  Ms. Thompson incorrectly identified Ronald Cotton as the man who raped her, and Cotton spent 11 years in prison before DNA proved he was not guilty.  After his release, Ronald and Jennifer became friends, and co-authored the book, which chronicles the events of the rape and the wrongful conviction.

Ms. Thompson has recently written an op-ed for The Hill in support of reauthorization of the Justice for All Act to ensure that post-conviction DNA testing remains accessible.

See the original posting on The Hill here.  The text of her piece appears below:

October 26, 2014
Harm multiplies when the innocent are wrongly convicted
By Jennifer Thompson

In June of 1995, I found myself on a journey I never wanted, never asked for and never would have wished on another human being. I learned that the man whom I had identified in court as my rapist – the man whose face, breath and evilness I had dreamt about for 11 years – was innocent. The man whom I believed had destroyed me that night, who had stolen everything from me, and whom I hated with an all-consuming rage had lost 4000 days, eleven Christmases, eleven birthdays, and relationships with loved ones. And on June 30th of 1995, Ronald Cotton, the man I had hated and prayed for to die, walked out of prison a free and innocent man.

My rage and hatred had been misplaced. I was wrong. I had sent an innocent man to prison. A third of his life was over, and the shame, guilt and fear began to suffocate me. I had let down everyone — the police department, the district attorney’s office, the community, the other women who became victims of Bobby Poole, and especially Ronald Cotton and his family.

Several years after Ronald was freed, I received a phone call from Bobby Poole’s last victim. I remember hearing her story about what happened to her and realizing that we all had left him on the streets to commit further crimes – rapes — that we possibly could have prevented if Ronald had not been locked up for something he had never done. The knowledge that Mr. Poole had been left at liberty to hurt other women paralyzed me and sent me into a backward spiral that took years to recover from. This journey has taught me that the impact of wrongful convictions goes so much further than a victim and the wrongfully convicted. The pool of victims from 1984 was huge – me, Ron, the police department, our families, and the other women who became victims of Bobby Poole all suffered.

This case crystalized for me why it is so important to have laws in place that protect the innocent. Those laws would be important enough if they only protected the innocent, but they do so much more. They also protect the potential victims of real perpetrators, the families and children of the wrongfully convicted person, and – ultimately – the victim who learns the truth.

The Justice for All Act, which is up for reauthorization by Congress, allows men like Ronald to obtain post-conviction DNA testing that can lead to their freedom and to the conviction of the guilty. Without access to such testing, innocent men will remain in prison, real perpetrators will remain free, and new victims will have to experience the same horrors and indignities that I did. I urge Congress to pass the Justice For All Act now so that we can live in a world where the truly guilty are behind bars and the innocent are free.

Thompson is the co-author with Ronald Cotton of the book Picking Cotton, a memoir they wrote together after DNA testing proved that Cotton had been wrongly convicted of raping Thompson as a college student.

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