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New 'double blind' procedures aim to ensure right person is convicted

House Justice Appropriations Committee unanimously approves legislation

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The House Justice Appropriations Committee unanimously approved legislation Monday afternoon that requires 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 three out of four people released by DNA exonerations were sent to prison by faulty eyewitness testimony.

“So, we want to make sure the right person is convicted,” said Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Vero Beach, who is sponsoring the legislation.

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,” 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 spent 26 years as a public defender. The change is a big deal, she said.

“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,” Daniels said.

Neither the police chiefs or sheriffs are objecting.

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

Harrell was quick to point out that catching the right person the first time makes everyone safer.

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