Legislation would change procedure for identifying suspects

Published: Mar. 27, 2017 at 4:05 PM EDT
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By: Mike Vasilinda | Capitol News Service

March 27, 2017

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- The House Justice Appropriations Committee unanimously approved legislation this afternoon requiring law enforcement agencies to follow a set of procedures called 'double blind' when conducting live or photo eyewitness identifications. The legislation is a result of witnesses too often getting it wrong.

Alan Crotzer was convicted of a strong arm robbery in 1983, even though he never matched the height or weight first described by the only eyewitness.

“From the beginning, I did not fit the description,” Crotzer said.

An Innocence Commission study in 2011 found that 3 out of 4 people released by DNA exonerations were sent to prison by faulty eyewitness testimony.

Sponsor Rep. Gayle Harrell said, “So, we want to make sure the right person is convicted.”

Now, State Representative Harrell wants to fix the problem by requiring police to use officers unfamiliar with the crime or suspect when conducting photo or live lineups.

“You would have to have an independent administrator handle it, so anyone working on the case would not know who is there and would not be able to influence in any way at all,” Rep Harrell said.

Police agencies that don’t adopt the standards wouldn’t face a penalty, but defense attorneys would be allowed to raise their non-compliance at trial.

Nancy Daniels, of the Public Defenders Association, spent 26 years as a public defender. She says the change is a big deal.

“And even if the judge allows the evidence, it can be presented to the jury, so they know the procedures now required by law were not used,” said Daniels.

The Police Chiefs and Sheriffs are not objecting.

Jerry Demings, President of the Florida Sheriff’s Association, says, “We certainly don’t want anyone who is innocent to be tried and convicted.”

Rep. Harrell is quick to point out, catching the right person the first time makes everyone safer.

Alan Crotzer received $50,000 for each of the 24 years he wrongfully spent in prison. So getting it wrong can also be costly for taxpayers.