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PRESS RELEASE: Sen. Keaveny Files Legislation to Reduce Wrongful Convictions

   

Keavey-Banner-For-Web–122811
State Senator Joe Keaveny
District 4

For Immediate Release:
Jan. 26, 2015

Capitol Building, Room 333
Jefferson City, MO 65101

Contact: Stacy Morse
(573) 751-3599

Sen. Keaveny Files Legislation to
Reduce Wrongful Convictions

Bills aim to improve public safety by protecting the innocent, preventing the truly guilty from committing other crimes

JEFFERSON CITY—Senator Joseph Keaveny, D-St. Louis, is sponsoring two important criminal justice bills that will strengthen public safety throughout Missouri. Senate Bill 303 would require police departments to implement simple, scientifically supported eyewitness identification procedures. The other, Senate Bill 304, would require police to record custodial interrogations of suspects. The two bills are aimed at preventing procedural mistakes that can lead to wrongful convictions.

Wrongful convictions pose a serious threat to public safety because imprisoning an innocent person allows the real perpetrator to remain free to commit additional crimes. Real perpetrators were identified in 141 of the nation’s 325 wrongful convictions that were proven through DNA testing. Those criminals went on to commit 78 rapes, 34 murders and 33 other violent crimes.

Senate Bill 303 would require police to implement the following eyewitness identification procedures, all of which have been scientifically proven to reduce the chances of misidentification and improve the accuracy of the criminal process:

· Administrator who is unaware of or cannot see suspect – The officer conducting a live or photo lineup should not know the suspect’s identity; this prevents any unintentional cues, which could influence a selection. Because it is not always practicable for a small department to administer a live or photo lineup this way, the “folder shuffle” method can be used as an alternative for photo lineups. This simple method involves placing photos in different folders, shuffling them and handing them to the eyewitness or victim one by one, so the officer is unaware of the photo being viewed.
· Instructions to eyewitness, victim – The officer must instruct the eyewitness or victim that the suspect may or may not be in the lineup and that the investigation will continue even if a selection is not made; this way, there is no pressure to make a selection, which could potentially be made in error.
· Confidence statement – A verbatim statement of confidence must be written down by the officer at the time the victim or eyewitness makes an identification. Having the eyewitness or victim describe their level of confidence at that time will provide juries with a useful tool for judging the accuracy of the identification.
· Proper Filler Selection – Non-suspect lineup members must match the victim’s or eyewitness’ description of the perpetrator while ensuring that no one in the lineup stands out.

“Eyewitness misidentification is the leading contributor to wrongful convictions, nationally and in Missouri. Additionally, recent comprehensive studies have shown us how readily available reforms can enhance the accuracy of eyewitness identifications; yet in Missouri, we continue to rely on outmoded protocols,” said Sen. Keaveny. “This has resulted in numerous individuals being charged with and convicted of crimes they did not commit. That is a travesty, and it damages the public’s trust in our criminal justice system. In an age where we have more tools than ever to collect physical evidence, it’s important that we have best practices in place to improve the accuracy of eyewitness evidence. This will protect the innocent and public safety, as it will allow police and prosecutors to focus on the truly guilty.”

Eyewitness misidentification contributed to 72 percent of the nation’s 325 wrongful convictions proven by DNA evidence, and played a role in 88 percent of Missouri’s DNA exonerations.

Senator Keaveny has also filed a bill that addresses how law enforcement officers conduct the interrogation of suspects. Typically, these interrogations are recorded.

Under current Missouri statutes, though, there are multiple exemptions that allow law enforcement to not record an interrogation, including lack of access to or damaged equipment. Senate Bill 304 would require officers to issue a written statement as to why the recording didn’t take place.

“This measure isn’t aimed at policing the police. Instead, it’s a way to protect all individuals involved, including law enforcement. Under my bill, if a recording of an interrogation isn’t made, police officers will have evidence indicating it was for a justifiable reason and that no misconduct took place,” said Sen. Keaveny. “It would also expedite court cases and go far in making sure the correct perpetrator is apprehended.”

Senator Keaveny, who played a key role in the passage of last session’s criminal code reform bill, has long advocated for improving Missouri’s criminal procedures. Together, the measures would assure more accuracy and reliability in the criminal process, preventing wrongful convictions and helping law enforcement to more expeditiously identify the guilty.

To follow the progress of Sen. Keaveny’s legislation, visit his official Missouri Senate website at www.senate.mo.gov/keaveny.