New eyewitness law requires follow-up
Published 6:00 pm Tuesday, July 23, 2019
The Louisiana Legislature passed a law in 2018 that addresses problems with eyewitness testimony, and it appears law enforcement agencies are following the suggested procedures. However, only a small minority of 450 agencies have submitted a copy of their reformed procedures to the Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Criminal Justice.
The Advocate said a lot of training has taken place and law enforcement officials think detectives are properly doing their jobs. The newspaper said it’s probably more a question of oversight than rebellion.
The new Eyewitness Identification Reform law requires protocols, such as; ensuring the officer presenting a photo array of suspects to the eyewitness doesn’t know who is suspected, proper instructions to the witnesses and recording of the witness interviews.
Sheriff Craig Webre of Lafourche Parish helped draft the law and said he understood why the Legislature was looking for assurances of compliance but overworked officers could easily overlook a requirement outside the routine.
Act 466 of 2018 passed the Senate and House unanimously. The Advocate said that was, for the most part, because police accept scientific studies that show eyewitness testimony is fraught with problems from mistaken identities to subtle influences that has led to many being sent to prison for crimes they didn’t commit.
Loren Lampert, executive director of the Louisiana District Attorneys Association, said, “All the parties came together on the bill, really because most of the agencies were doing something very akin to what was being proposed in the statute. When I was chief of police in Alexandria, we had adopted a policy that was very similar.”
The Innocence Project New Orleans said 15 of 16 Louisiana convictions based on eyewitness testimony have been overturned since 1991 when DNA evidence pointed the finger of guilt at someone else. Another 13 convicted people were exonerated during that time period because the eyewitnesses were found to be incorrect.
The newspaper said Archie Williams was exonerated March 23 after 36 years in prison for a 1983 rape conviction based solely on the victim’s identification of him in a photo array. Advanced technology in 2019 found the fingerprints of a serial rapist in the victim’s home, and Williams was freed from prison.
We hope the new law keeps other innocent individuals out of prison. Every law enforcement agency needs to know that filing the required paperwork is the best way to ensure all agencies are in full compliance.