New Guidelines for Witness Identification

Filed under: Criminal Law, News by Contributor @ April 21, 2016

Photo Array

On April 12th, the Pennsylvania District Attorney’s Association introduced new guidelines in an attempt to make eyewitness identifications of alleged perpetrators more accurate and reliable. The association aimed to achieve this goal through its endorsement of the use of simultaneous photo arrays.

These arrays will include photos of the suspect, along with photos of other similar-looking people on the same page. Witnesses will then be shown the array and be asked if they recognize anyone familiar. The DA’s Association has recommended that these tests be conducted by someone other than the investigating officer because such a “blind administrator” will be inherently unbiased in conducting such a test. The administrator will only ask neutral questions such as: “Do you recognize anyone?” and “From where do you recognize this person?” The administrator will take note of the witness’s verbal and nonverbal reactions and ensure that the array is preserved as evidence.

These kinds of arrays are already used by many police departments in Pennsylvania, but now the practice will occur in every county in the state. Dauphin County DA Ed Marsico explained that “We’re just sort of fine-tuning what’s already being done out there. We want to ensure that no innocent person is ever wrongfully charged or convicted. At the same time, we want to ensure that the guilty are held accountable.”

Regarding other projects, Cumberland County DA David Freed said that the the Best Projects Committee, which was formed in 2014 to recommend improvements and reforms for the criminal justice system, is looking into three other projects. These include body-worn cameras by police, the recording of witness and suspect interviews, and investigations of officer-involved shootings.

What do you think of these developments? Let us know in the comment section below.

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