All police departments across Illinois are now required to video-record lineups and photo arrays as part of a new state law aimed to prevent police from influencing witness identifications. This reform is long overdue. Misidentification is the leading factor in wrongful conviction cases. Misidentification contributed to approximately 75% of all wrongful convictions exonerated by DNA evidence.
Without proper oversight or supervision, it is too easy for the police to influence witnesses to point to its “lead” suspect. Research shows that the lineup administrator can provide hints to witnesses through body language or verbal cues. For example, if during a lineup the eyewitness selects a filler, the administrator might say things like “Are you absolutely sure?” or “You passed on number 4!” or “Take your time.” These comments suggest that the person the eyewitness selected is not the suspect and it obviously influences the subsequent selection. This new law attempts to resolve these issues.
Under the new law, the lineups or photo arrays must be conducted by a person who has no connection to the particular investigation. Police departments have expressed concerns in the ability to find blind administrator for some cases, causing delays in the investigation. Heppenin County, MN implemented a similar procedure and while police initially expressed similar concerns, it concluded that the procedure was fairly easy to implement. Hennepin County has patrol officers, captains and sergeants serve as blind administrators when needed.
The new Illinois law also requires lineups and photo arrays to be video recorded. The technology is here and as Karen Daniel, director of Northwestern’s Center on Wrongful Convictions, pointed out, “[t]here’s no substitute for knowing what’s going on than seeing it.” The video recording is given to both the judge and defense counsel. Of course, there are certain circumstances that excuse investigators from taking these steps (e.g., no working camera available), but by failing to follow protocol, defense counsel is alarmed with the ability to question the investigator’s motives.
The safeguards put in place by the new law should result in significant improvement over past practices, but at least one expert thinks there is room to make it better. Roy Malpass, a professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Texas at El Paso, notes that it would a better practice if the actions of the independent administrator were also video-recorded during the lineups and photo arrays.