TV crime programs tend to suggest that every aspect of solving a crime
lends itself to forensic science, as if CSI has been reduced to a magical
formula. But in many criminal investigations, identification of the alleged
perpetrator is still dependent on the recollections of eyewitnesses. And
all too often, a false identification can lead to a prosecution of the
wrong suspect in a
sexual assault or
theft case, all due to a convergence of unfortunate circumstances.
Florida legislators are currently considering measures that are intended
to make identification of criminal suspects more reliable. HB 821 and
SB 1206, the Eyewitness Identification Reform Act, would mandate specified
procedures for conducting lineups intended to identify criminal suspects.
One key to such reforms is the use of a "double blind" lineup,
wherein the officer administering the process, like the witness, does
not know the identity of the suspect among the people in the lineup. Eyewitnesses
must sign an acknowledgement that proper instructions were given. The
bill also requires the Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission
to provide educational materials to law enforcement agencies and conduct
ongoing training programs.
One clear indicator of the extent of the problem can be found in cases
where a convicted felon was later exonerated due to exculpatory DNA evidence.
Of twelve such past exonerations in Florida, nine convictions were dependent
on witness misidentification of the suspect. Data suggests that three
quarters of the nearly 300 DNA exonerations that have occurred nationwide
featured faulty identifications.
An unreliable witness identification was at the heart of the case of Derrick
Williams, who became Florida's thirteenth exonerated prison inmate
in April after serving 18 years of a life sentence for rape. "This
case highlights the need for prosecutors to closely scrutinize identifications
before trial and for judges in Florida to be more open to hearing from
scientific experts who can help the juries better understand how to properly
evaluate such IDs if they do come in at trial," said Innocence Project
of Florida Executive Director Seth Miller.
Florida Criminal Defense Lawyers Must Hold Prosecutors to Their Evidentiary Burden
Regardless of the nature of the alleged offense - from a violent crime
to complex illegal financial actions - a defense attorney's primary
job is to protect the client from the worst consequences of a conviction.
Whether a witness misidentified his or her assailant or a series of misunderstood
transactions leads to allegations of
fraud against a financial professional, counsel must examine every aspect of
the evidence to cast doubt in the minds of prosecutors, if possible, before
charges are filed.
The prosecution's burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt is not
just a slogan. Our criminal justice system requires proof that an accused
person actually committed the crime, and judges and juries cannot be allowed
to depend on assumptions. By advocating for better identification procedures
and other improvements of evidence gathering, Florida criminal defense
lawyers work to ensure justice for all defendants.