Senator Scott Wiener and Activist Jennifer Thompson Hold Informational Hearing on SB 923 to Help Prevent Wrongful Convictions of Innocent People by Strengthening Eyewitness ID Standards
Sacramento – Today Senator Scott Wiener (D- San Francisco) and Assemblymember Mark Levine (D- Marin County) teamed up with best-selling author and activist Jennifer Thompson to host an informational hearing in support of SB 923. SB 923 sets statewide eyewitness identification standards to help prevent misidentifications that lead to innocent people being convicted and actual perpetrators remaining free. It is sponsored by the California Innocence Coalition and the ACLU of California.
At today’s informational hearing legislative and department staffs were invited to listen to Jennifer Thompson’s story, and why she now spends her time advocating for strengthening eyewitness ID standards. After Jennifer wrongfully identified her assaulter he was sent to prison for eleven years before being exonerated. The man who assaulted Jennifer remained free until he was convicted of a separate assault on another woman, and was later through DNA evidence found to be Jennifer’s assaulter. Jennifer and the man she wrongfully identified now work together, share their story, and advocate for reform of eyewitness ID standards throughout the country. The hearing is available online here.
"When a wrongful conviction happens there are many harmed, from the original victims and their families to the exonerated and their loved ones,” said Jennifer Thompson. “But we also must remember that the system failed to protect the community by allowing actual perpetrators to remain free to commit more crimes. This bill will help ensure that victims are given true justice, innocent people remain free, and violent criminals are held accountable"
“Our justice system should be based on best practices that allow our law enforcement officials to do their jobs and the public to have the confidence that we are keeping our communities safe,” said Senator Scott Wiener. “Our current lack of eyewitness standards can lead to wrongful convictions and the actual perpetrator of the crime remaining free. Some California counties already employ best practices that work. SB 923 ensures that, throughout California, our justice system protects innocent people, apprehends those who commit crimes, and allows public safety officials to do their jobs.”
Nationally, eyewitness misidentification is the leading contributor to convictions that were later overturned by DNA evidence. Currently there is no statewide standard for best practices governing eyewitness identification, though some law enforcement agencies in counties like Alameda, San Francisco, Contra Costa and Santa Clara have adopted some of the recommended procedures for best practices.
“We’re not talking about some procedural niceties; we’re talking about taking concrete steps to keep innocent people out of prison. And every time an innocent person is jailed, the real criminal goes free, piling one injustice atop another. I’m proud to join with Senator Weiner to do something about it,” said Assemblymember Marc Levine.
SB 923 adopts evidence-based procedures that have been endorsed by the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, the National Academy of the Sciences, the U.S. Department of Justice, the American Bar Association, and the International Association of Police Chiefs to improve the way in which eyewitness identifications are conducted throughout the state.
SB 923 is currently in the Assembly Appropriations Committee. If passed out it will move to the full Assembly for a vote in the coming weeks. The deadline for SB 923 to pass the legislature is August 31st and will then go to Governor Brown for his signature.
The core pillars required under SB 923 are:
- Blind/Blinded Administration: Blind/blinded administration of procedures prevents suggestiveness. In a blind lineup the officer administering the procedure is unaware of the suspect’s identity. If that is not practical, a “blinded technique” can be used such as the folder shuffle method in which the suspect and filler photographs are placed in separate folders, shuffled and handed to the eyewitness one at a time.
- Eyewitness Instructions: Prior to the procedure, eyewitnesses should be instructed that the perpetrator may or may not be in the lineup.
- Proper Use of Fillers: Non-suspect “fillers” used in the lineup should match the witness’s description of the perpetrator and the suspect should not noticeably stand out.
- Confidence Statements: Immediately following the lineup procedure, the eyewitness should provide a statement, in his or her own words, that articulates the level of confidence in the identification.
- Recording: The entire identification procedure is videotaped.