Oklahoma City, OK 73105
For Immediate Release: October 11, 2016
Senators hear testimony on how to reduce eyewitness misidentification.
Tim Durham testifies on eyewitness misidentification.
Judiciary Committee hears testimony on eyewitness misidentification
and wrongful convictions
Nationwide, more than 70 percent of wrongful convictions
in criminal cases were tied to misidentification by eyewitnesses.
In Oklahoma, that’s the case in about 30 percent of such cases.
On Monday, members of the Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony
on the need for law enforcement to adopt proven methods aimed at
improving the reliability of eyewitness identification. State Sen.
David Holt requested the interim study.
“One of the worst things government can do is to unjustly
take away a person’s liberty,” said Holt, R-Oklahoma
City. “We heard from two men who were wrongfully convicted
and sent to prison because of the way investigators worked with
the victims to identify a suspect. Those identifications were later
proven wrong through DNA evidence, though the damage done to those
innocent men cannot be undone. But going forward, there are methods
that can reduce eyewitness misidentification.”
Vicki Behenna, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Innocence Project,
said the four key best practices included blind administration of
lineups, so that the officer conducting the lineup wouldn’t
know who the suspect was. She also discussed the need to instruct
the eyewitness that the perpetrator may or may not be in the lineup.
Other key best practices include the proper use of fillers, or other
individuals in a lineup, that match the eyewitness’s description
of the perpetrator, as well as eyewitness confidence statements
taken when an identification is made.
Tim Durham of Tulsa was sentenced to more than 3,000 years for
the rape of an 11 year-old girl after she identified him as her
attacker. He was eventually exonerated when DNA proved he could
not have committed the crime. He said he may have looked similar
to the perpetrator, but there were clear differences.
“The victim in this case said her attacker had a pock-marked
face…and a pot belly. My arrest record shows that at the time,
and my photographs show that I had no pock-marked face. I actually
had a full beard and mustache 14 days after the crime which I could
not have grown in that time,” Durham said. “If these
best practices had been in place, I believe that it would have been
difficult for the victim in this case to even make that identification.”
Behenna said wrongful convictions also put the public’s safety
at risk, because when an innocent person is imprisoned, the actual
perpetrator may be out on the street committing more crimes. She
told the committee that wrongful convictions come with a high price
for those wrongly accused and for taxpayers.
“You can’t put in dollar amount the loss of life that
an exoneree feels in being convicted for a crime which they did
not commit. By way of dollar amounts, the state of Oklahoma has
already paid out $1.36 million to six exonerees,” Behenna
said, noting that didn’t even include the subsequent civil
lawsuits, with one exoneree being awarded $4 million, and another
receiving $8 million,” Behenna said, noting subsequent civil
suits have cost millions more. “The cost to taxpayers is astronomical.”
While some police departments in some
communities, like Oklahoma City, have already adopted these best
practices for eyewitness identifications, others have not. The Oklahoma
Innocence Project has offered free materials to help other departments
adopt these procedures. Holt said while legislation could be one
way of ensuring the identification best practices become more widely
used, he’d like to see law enforcement move in that direction
on their own.
“We’d like to see CLEET (Council on Law Enforcement
and Training) help get this into their training with a goal of having
all law enforcement agencies voluntarily adopt these best practices,
but we’ll of course be monitoring this to see how it progresses.”
For more information,