Thursday, February 08, 2007

Criminal Line Ups

I've blogged before that the issue of wrongful convictions in death penalty cases and official resistence to reforms, primarily from Republicans, was the tipping point in my conversion to the Democratic Party.

At the time of the controversy in Illinois a panel of scholars, law makers, judges, and lawyers got together to determine what reforms the system required. One that made the most sense to me was a change in how the classic police line up was conducted. It just made perfect sense. If a cop shows a witness or victim a group of 5 or 6 men and asks, "Is the perpetrator there?" the witness is inclined to pick one of the people presented. Even if that isn't the right person it is the one that most looks like the perp. If, on the other hand, the witness is shown possible perps one at a time and knowing that others might be coming along they are less likely to choose incorrectly.

Today The Tribune reports that a group of defense attorneys are suing for release of raw data that was used to produce a report that is critical of the One-At-A-Time method.

I've always been disturbed by the law enforcement community's propensity to get a conviction at all costs. There are any number of factors that contribute to this not limited to prosecutors running for election and politicians and community leaders pressing for the solution to high profile crimes. It seems to me that they should be more concerned with getting the accuracy of convictions than the number of convitions.

At this point we can't know if this report was intentionally skewed. We should presume innocence here. Even if not intentionally skewed, the assumptions for the study could be wrong. Eye witnesses are not perfect. If a witness doesn't pick the perp in a One-At-A-Time lineup but guesses right in All-At-Once lineups does not make All-At-Once better. Hopefully, this won't drop out of the news so I can follow it.

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