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Oregon police departments must improve their practices for identification of suspects by eyewitnesses to crime. Our state is not immune from miscarriages of justice due to erroneous eyewitness identification as the case of Samuel Lawson, wrongfully imprisoned for nine years for aggravated murder, shows.


As your recent article (Best fix for photo lineups? Police, ID experts disagree, July 23) highlights, problematic eyewitness identification practices such as the ones used in Lawson’s case prompted our state Supreme Court to introduce a new test for the admissibility of eyewitness identification evidence in 2012.

The Oregon Association of Chiefs of Police responded by developing improved procedures for eyewitness identification. These procedures draw on decades of social science research and are widely used by police departments all across the country. It is imperative that all Oregon police departments fully adopt the identification practices recommended by the OACP because misidentification is proven to play a prominent role in wrongful convictions.

The policy recommends a number of sound core practices: 1) the blind administration of photo lineups, meaning that the officer administering the lineup is either unaware of the suspect’s identity or cannot see which photo is being viewed so as to avoid influencing the selection; 2) instruction to the eyewitness that the perpetrator may or may not be in the lineup, ensuring there is no pressure to pick someone; and 3) the verbatim documentation of the witness’s confidence in the identification at the time it was made to help a jury gauge the reliability of an identification at the time of trial.

It is troubling to read in the Portland Tribune that some in the Portland Police Bureau find that these sound, evidence-based practices “aren’t practical” and are choosing to ignore aspects of them despite the facts. We know that misidentification of suspects is the leading contributor to wrongful convictions nationally, having played a role in 72 percent of such cases proven by DNA evidence. Furthermore, the science is settled; this much was proven last year when the National Academy of Sciences, the nation’s leading scientific organization, recommended these practices.

We have no doubt that continued partnership between law enforcement and the scientific community will yield further refinements to techniques for managing eyewitness identification. The OACP model policy is, however, a considerable improvement on procedures currently in use around our state, procedures that have at best been uneven, and at worst have undermined the value of witness evidence.

The OACP model policy is practicable to implement, and the Oregon Innocence Project stands ready to work with its partners in law enforcement statewide to see through its full adoption. All of us share a responsibility to protect our society against miscarriages of justice.

Aliza B. Kaplan is co-founder of the Oregon Innocence Project and a professor at Lewis & Clark Law School.

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