The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office is changing its policy on eyewitness identifications, after an investigation by the Palm Beach Post found a number of issues with how deputies identified suspects in such cases.
Our Palm Beach defense lawyers understand that witness identifications are frequently unreliable. This can be particularly true when law enforcement do not take care in preventing undue influence or otherwise acting inappropriately to influence the identification of a suspect. In many cases, an experienced attorney will challenge the results of such identifications. When successful, a reduction or dismissal of the charges often results.
The sheriff’s office and state attorney are only now devising a police that incorporates the best practices outlined by the Department of Justice more than a decade ago. Other local law enforcement agencies are also being encourage to adopt such policies.
Mistaken identifications remain the leading cause of wrongful conviction. A lack of a uniform standard locally, means identifications may be handled in one jurisdiction, differently than they are in another.
The new policy being proposed by the sheriff’s office would require blind administration — meaning the officer who shows a potential witness a photo lineup does not know which photo is of the potential suspect. It also recommends other best practices, including a cautionary instruction that tells the witness a suspect may or may not be present.
A ranking officer said the sheriff’s office has been reluctant to formulate a policy because deviations from a policy could result in defense wins in court. The investigation by The Post found just 3 of the area’s 32 law enforcement agencies had a policy in place that incorporates the key components of the Justice Department’s recommendations.
Meanwhile, the Florida Innocence Commission is considering a recommendation to change the law, which could force agencies to become more accountable when it comes to policies governing eyewitness identification.
Best practices in presenting lineups include:
-Telling a witness the suspect may or may not be present and that an investigation will continue regardless of identification.
-Make certain those in the lineup look similar, with no outstanding characteristics.
-Record the length of time it takes a witness to make a choice.
-Use blind administration, to ensure the officer presenting the lineup does not influence the witness.
If you are facing criminal charges in Broward or Palm Beach counties, contact the Law Offices of Leifert & Leifert, a Partnership of Former Prosecutors, for a free consultation to discuss your rights. Call 1.888.5.DEFEND.