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A continuing wave of exonerations and revelations about wrongful convictions linked to false eyewitness identification has led more states to consider reforming their lineup procedures with new guidelines and legislation. A key factor is the order in which lineups should be shown as more states consider whether to replace the traditional simultaneous method with the sequential procedure, during which people or photographs are shown one after another rather than all at once. Another common feature of the new procedures calls for a “blind” lineup, meaning the person administering it does not know who the suspect is. A movement to reform eyewitness identification procedures has been building in momentum for the last few years. A reform bill in West Virginia has been awaiting the governor’s approval and was one of 16 bills on eyewitness identification proposed in 10 states this legislative session, said Scott Ehlers, state legislative affairs director for the Washington-based National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. In Illinois, a civil lawsuit over the issue was filed in February. And in New Mexico, an eyewitness identification bill was proposed for the first time this year. “Bills seem to have been going further this year than in the past,” Ehlers said. “Exonerations and the wrongful convictions: I think that is really pushing the issue.” As of March, an analysis of 197 wrongful convictions overturned by post-conviction DNA evidence conducted by the Innocence Project at Yeshiva University Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law found that mistaken eyewitness identification was the leading cause, contributing to more than 75% of the cases. Reforms spreading Some of the recently proposed bills call for written policies regarding eyewitness identification, such as a bill pending in Maryland. Others are reform bills that aim to establish the sequential method and the blindness factor, such as the bill passed by West Virginia’s legislature in March. Ehlers said a resolution introduced in Georgia in February that calls for a commission to create a best-practices standard has a good chance of passing, as does a bill in California, which was re-introduced in February after being vetoed by the governor last year. And in Illinois, the issue has been under a spotlight as a result of a new lawsuit. On Feb. 8, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, in conjunction with the MacArthur Justice Center at Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago, filed a lawsuit against Illinois police departments that participated in a study on eyewitness identification released in March 2006. The controversial report, which was conducted by the general counsel for the Chicago Police Department superintendent, questioned some of the new reform procedures and instead favored traditional methods. The lawsuit aims to get police to release the data used in the study. Monique Bond, a spokeswoman for the Chicago Police Department, declined to comment, citing pending litigation. The Chicago study, while not impeding reforms, stimulated debate on the topic, said Ezekiel Edwards, a staff attorney/Mayer Brown eyewitness fellow at the Innocence Project in New York. Whether the pending bills pass or not, Edwards said there is definitely more activity now, which he attributed to wrongful convictions. “They allow us to kind of look back at the cases as a collective and see what went wrong and the overreaching answer is eyewitness identification,” said Edwards, who recently testified in favor of West Virginia’s bill. New Mexico’s bill did not pass this year. Jim Burleson, executive director of the New Mexico Sheriffs and Police Association, said it had a number of problems, such as not calling for additional funding but requiring a number of changes, such as having third-party administrators run the lineups and record the process.

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