Advocacy group hails passage of eyewitness expert bill
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Criminal justice advocates are applauding passage of legislation allowing experts on eyewitness identification to testify in some Louisiana criminal cases.
The bill’s supporters include the Innocence Project New Orleans. The organization said in a news release Wednesday that the legislation was needed because eyewitness mistakes are a leading cause of wrongful convictions. Proponents said testimony from experts on memory and eyewitness reliability could prevent such convictions.
Gov. John Bel Edwards signed the bill Wednesday afternoon, a spokeswoman said in an email.
The bill won final passage in the House on Monday by a vote of 103-0. The Senate had approved it earlier by a vote of 37-0.
The bill states that experts on memory and eyewitness identification can testify in criminal trials when there is no physical or scientific evidence that corroborates an eyewitness’s identification of a defendant.
Among those praising the legislation was Wilbert Jones. He was exonerated last year after 46 years of imprisonment for a rape conviction based on identification from a single eyewitness. Innocence Project New Orleans, or IPNO, which took up Jones’ case in 2001, said the victim had told police she was not 100 percent certain when she picked Jones from a lineup months after the crime.
“If an expert could have educated my jury, I may not have been wrongly convicted,” Jones said in an IPNO news release. “This law will help prevent other innocent people from experiencing what happened to me.”
IPNO said the expert testimony bill builds on a 2018 law requiring police to use scientifically based best practices in using eyewitness identifications.
“Wrongful conviction cases, together with over 40 years of scientific research, show us that eyewitness identification is fallible, and yet it is so convincing that, when it is wrong, it poses a serious risk of convicting the innocent,” Jee Park, the organization’s executive director, said in the news release.