Legislative Bill Seeks to Change Police Lineup Standards
Advocates say standards statewide should be uniform
JUNEAU - When it comes to police lineups, Senator Hollis French says Alaska's law enforcement is not on the same page in how they conduct them. French says he's pushing to change the standards to make sure the real criminals get caught.
With the idea to catch the guilty and free the innocent, the former state prosecutor said no one benefits by arresting and imprisoning an innocent person. He’s pushing thru Senate Bill 200 to be sure that process is done legally and fairly. “Sometimes witnesses are just wrong, and they pick the wrong guy and you just don't want that to happen,” said French.
Part of the problem, the Alaska Innocence Project says, is a lack of uniform standards for eyewitness lineups statewide. “Eyewitness is extremely compelling to juries, but misidentification can frequently wind up with a miscarriage of justice,” said French.
Here in Anchorage police do things like witness show-ups when an eyewitness IDs the suspect right on the scene of the crime. But that's not the only method they use. “What we do is go through the DMV files looking for people very similar to one another,” said APD spokesman Lieutenant Dave Parker.
APD uses Alaska driver’s license or ID card photos, and eyewitnesses are read a warning, before viewing the six-pack lineup, saying the people in the photographs are not necessarily suspects. This is something French says in smaller areas of Alaska isn't always done impartially. “The police officer frequently unwittingly transmits clues to the witness about who the suspect is in the lineup,” said French, which is why he wants a list of common sense items asked to witnesses. “What they saw, what the lighting conditions were, how far away they were from the suspect.”
These are questions he hopes will ensure whoever commits crimes ends up behind bars. French said he has gotten support from prosecutors and police departments, who for the most part do these things already, but worry about having extra rules with not enough manpower. French's bill is currently being heard by the Senate Finance Committee.