In late January, Senate Bill 923 was introduced by state Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) and Assemblyman Marc Levine (D-Marin County) to set new statewide standards for officers conducting live and photo lineups for eyewitnesses. According to Sen. Wiener and Assemblyman Levine, misidentification in cases leads to wrongful convictions and allows the guilty to walk free. Under the proposed bill, police and sheriff’s departments would have to follow new procedures based on methods that national researchers have found improve accuracy, and that have been adopted by federal law enforcement agencies. In a statement, Sen. Wiener stated,
A fair and equitable justice system must have the strongest policies in place to ensure that we correctly identify people who commit crimes. Requiring evidence-based standards for eyewitness identifications will help keep innocent people out of jail while still allowing public safety officials to do their jobs.
However, the bill could face opposition from law enforcement officials who believe that they should be able to set policies for their agencies. The proposed bill would make law enforcement agencies have to use “blind administration,” lineups that must be supervised by officers who don’t know the suspect’s identity to prevent them from giving suggestions to an eyewitness. Officers would also have to videotape the process and ensure all people in the photos, including “fillers,” or those who are not suspects, match a witness’ description of a defendant. Counties such as Alameda, Contra Costa, San Francisco, and Santa Clara have already implemented similar procedures. Since 2006, about four proposals that required law enforcement agencies to change their eyewitness practices failed in Sacramento. We will have to wait and see if this bill passes.