AG’s office outlines new policy on eyewitness ID
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — The state Attorney General’s office is encouraging police departments to adopt new policies aimed at strengthening eyewitness identification procedures to reduce the risk of wrongful convictions.
The policies outlined Monday aim to ensure more reliability and accuracy in eyewitness identifications, whether by photo or an in-person line up. The changes include making sure the suspect does not easily stand out, having witnesses view the photos one at a time and separately from other witnesses, and having an officer who does not know the suspect’s description administer the identification process.
The recommendations were crafted in partnership with the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police and the Innocence Project, a national organization that works to reverse wrongful convictions. Deputy Attorney General Ann Rice joined with members from both organizations to announce the policy, which police departments were first notified of several months ago. The state cannot require police departments to adopt the changes but will provide training for officers to learn the set of best practices.
“The issuance of this policy is certainly not in response to a specific concern that has been raised in the investigations in this state, but rather in recognition of a way to improve what is already being done in New Hampshire,” Rice said.
Suspect misidentification is the most common contributor to wrongful convictions in cases where DNA evidence has exonerated someone, officials said. Rice said she is not aware of any overturned convictions in New Hampshire.
Fourteen other states, including Vermont, Rhode Island and Connecticut use the same model policy, and Massachusetts is in the process of implementing it.
“We want to protect people and we want to make sure we do that with the best possible research and tools that we have available,” said Richard Crate, Enfield’s police chief and president of the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police. “This policy is just a small step in the work that’s already being done across the state.”