GENERAL INFORMATION FORM
1. Summary of Recommendation
This recommendation on eyewitness testimony seeks to increase the chances of convicting the guilty while reducing the risks of convicting the innocent by reforming eyewitness identification procedures, such as lineups and photospreads, to improve their likely accuracy. The primary components of the recommendation are that police and prosecutors should draft detailed guidelines to improve the accuracy of eyewitness identification procedures; that those guidelines should at least address the topics and reflect the teachings of the ABA Statement of Best Practices for Promoting the Accuracy of Eyewitness Identification Procedures; and that police and prosecutors should receive periodic training in these procedures and create internal mechanisms for updating them. The recommendation also states that, where appropriate in an individual case, courts should: (1) have the discretion to allow properly qualified experts to testify on the factors affecting eyewitness accuracy and, (2) when there has been a pretrial identification of the defendant, and identity is a central issue in a case tried before a jury, consider exercising their discretion to use a specific instruction, tailored to the needs of the individual case, explaining the factors to be considered in gauging lineup and photospread accuracy.
2. Approved by Submitting Entity.
This recommendation was approved by the Criminal Justice Section Council at its April 17-18, 2004 meeting.
3. Similar Recommendations Submitted Previously.
This recommendation has not previously been submitted to the House of Delegates or the Board of Governors.
4. Relevant Existing ABA Policies and Affect on These Policies.
There are no relevant existing ABA Policies.
5. Urgency Requiring Action at this Meeting.
The problem of wrongful convictions has recently received widespread attention as numerous defendants have been exonerated after spending years in prison, while the real culprits have gone free. Public pressure and pressure within the legal profession for quick and effective improvements in our system of justice is intense. States and localities throughout the nation are considering a variety of reforms. If the ABA does not act now, it will lose the opportunity to influence this national debate in a positive way. This urgency is greatest in the case of eyewitness misidentification, which is the single largest contributor to mistaken convictions.
6. Status of Congressional Legislation (If applicable).
No legislation is currently pending.
7. Cost to the Association.
The recommendation’s adoption would not result in direct costs to the Association. The only anticipated costs would be indirect costs that might be attributable to lobbying to have the recommendation adopted or implemented at the state and federal levels. These indirect costs cannot be estimated, but should be negligible since lobbying efforts would be conducted by existing staff members who already are budgeted to lobby Association policies.
8. Disclosure of Interest (If Applicable).
No known conflict of interest exists.
Concurrently with submission of this report to the ABA Policy Administration Office for calendaring on the August 2004 House of Delegates agenda, it is being circulated to the following:
Sections, Divisions and Forums:
All Sections and Divisions
10. Contact Person (Prior to 2004 Annual Meeting).
Prof. Andrew Taslitz
Howard University School of Law
2900 Van Ness St., NW
Washington, DC 20008
Phone: (202) 806-8029
11. Contact Persons (Who will present the report to the House).
Neal R. Sonnett Stephen Saltzburg
Law Offices of Neal R. Sonnett George Washington University
One Biscayne Tower School of Law
Two South Biscayne Blvd. Suite 2 720 20th Street, NW - Room B-303F
Miami, Florida 33131 Washington, DC 20006
Phone: (305) 358-2000 Phone: (202) 994-7089
FAX: (305) 358-1233 FAX: (202) 994-7143
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