DENVER (AP/CBS4) – A new statewide standard for eyewitness identifications cleared a Colorado Senate committee 5-0 Monday after lawmakers heard from crime victims, prosecutors and police who all agreed that eyewitnesses can be unreliable.
The bill would require a new statewide standard for gathering evidence from eyewitnesses. Colorado would become the 12th state to overhaul procedures for eyewitness identifications in criminal prosecutions.
“Prosecutors should seek the truth,” said Michael Dougherty, an assistant district attorney who was speaking on behalf of the Colorado District Attorneys Council.
There have been more than 230 cases in Colorado and across the country where an innocent person has gone to prison.
Colorado’s bill would create a statewide standard already followed by many police agencies. For example, witnesses would have to be told when reviewing a lineup that the perpetrator might not be in the lineup.
Police would also have to tell witnesses that the investigation will continue whether or not the eyewitness identifies an alleged perpetrator. That caveat helps reduce witness concerns that the perpetrator won’t be caught if they don’t pick someone in a lineup.
Lawmakers heard chilling testimony from a North Carolina rape survivor who misidentified her attacker, landing the wrong man in prison for more than a decade.
The man was later cleared with DNA evidence.
“The rape was awful. It was a nightmare. But learning I’d identified the wrong person was the worst thing I’d ever been through,” Jennifer Thompson said.
Experts say mistaken identity is the number one reason innocent people go to prison. People like Brandon Moon, who spent 18 years behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit.
“If she had not sat there and pointed at me and said, ‘That’s the guy,’ I wouldn’t have been convicted certain of that,” Moon said.
Lawmakers on the Senate Judiciary panel had few questions. The measure appears poised for bipartisan support in the full Senate, after which it heads to the House.
“I think in many ways it is simple, but in other ways it’s very profound,” said the sponsor of the bill, Sen. Lucia Guzman, D-Denver.
The bill now awaits a vote by the full Senate.
LINK: Senate Bill 58
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