Police lineup reform in North Carolina
North Carolina was one of the first states to respond to the introduction of DNA evidence and the miscarriages of justice it uncovered by changing the way police departments in the state perform eyewitness lineups. DNA evidence has been used to free hundreds of wrongly convicted individuals, and scrutiny of court transcripts reveals that the juries in these cases were often swayed by eyewitnesses who made mistakes.
The Eyewitness Identification Reform Act, which was signed into law in 2007, requires lineups in North Carolina to be conducted by independent administrators who do not know the identification of the suspect and are not involved in the ongoing investigation. Photo arrays also require an independent administrator whenever possible, but alternatives such as a computer program may sometimes be used. The law also requires witnesses to be told that a suspect may not even be present and the investigation will continue regardless of the outcome.
Experienced prosecutors prepare their witnesses carefully, which may be why researchers have found that juries often give eyewitness identifications an undue amount of weight. The Eyewitness Identification Reform Act addresses this issue by requiring a video record to be made of lineups whenever possible. When a video recording is not possible, police must provide a detailed explanation and either make an audio recording or take detailed notes.
Video and audio recordings taken in accordance with the Eyewitness Identification Reform Act may be scrutinized by experienced criminal defense attorneys, and this could be especially true if the suspect and witness are of different races. When questionable eyewitness identification is not supported by compelling evidence, attorneys could seek to have criminal charges dismissed. Attorneys may also bring up the unreliability of eyewitness identifications during plea negotiations.
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