Bill Designed to Keep Innocent People out of Jail and Prevent Wrongful Convictions

Since 1989, experts estimate that nearly 200 people have been wrongly convicted in California.  According to the Innocence Project, mistaken eyewitness identification played a role in over 70 percent of convictions which were later overturned by DNA testing.

“This represents one of the most flagrant injustices plaguing our nation’s judicial system,” the ACLU argued in a recent release.

“Racial bias — both implicit and explicit — contributes to people being misidentifed in a lineup. Innocent people have spent decades behind bars for no reason. Even if the conviction is eventually overturned, the consequences of the experience can last a lifetime,” they add.

SB 923 would require that police throughout the state of California adhere to evidence-based standards during eyewitness identifications, which have been proven to improve accuracy and reliability.

Introduced back in January by San Francisco-area Senator Scott Wiener and Marin County Assemblymember Mark Levine, SB 923 sets statewide eyewitness identification standards to help prevent misidentifications that lead to innocent people being convicted and actual perpetrators remaining free.

Nationally, eyewitness misidentification is the leading contributor to convictions that were later overturned by DNA evidence.  In California, according to the National Registry of Exonerations, eyewitness misidentification played a role in 15 out of 23 DNA-related exonerations in the state. Currently there is no statewide standard for best practices governing eyewitness identification, though some law enforcement agencies in counties like Alameda, San Francisco, Contra Costa and Santa Clara have adopted some of the recommended procedures for best practices.

SB 923 adopts evidence-based procedures that have been endorsed by the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, the National Academy of the Sciences, the U.S. Department of Justice, the American Bar Association, and the International Association of Police Chiefs to improve the way in which eyewitness identifications are conducted throughout the state.

“A fair and equitable justice system must have the strongest policies in place to ensure that we correctly identify people who commit crimes,” said Senator Scott Wiener. “Eyewitness misidentifications not only lead to the conviction of innocent people, but the actual perpetrator also remains free, which is a danger for public safety. Requiring evidence-based standards for eyewitness identifications will help keep innocent people out of jail while still allowing public safety officials to do their jobs.”

“This glaring flaw in the justice system must be addressed,” said Assemblymember Marc Levine. “We cannot allow innocent people to be placed behind bars while perpetrators continue to endanger the public. We need to rely on science-based methods to ensure these injustices cannot continue.”

The core pillars required under SB 923 are:

  1. Blind/Blinded Administration: Blind/blinded administration of procedures prevents suggestiveness. In a blind lineup the officer administering the procedure is unaware of the suspect’s identity. If that is not practical, a “blinded technique” can be used such as the folder shuffle method in which the suspect and filler photographs are placed in separate folders, shuffled and handed to the eyewitness one at a time.
  2. Eyewitness Instructions: Prior to the procedure, eyewitnesses should be instructed that the perpetrator may or may not be in the lineup.
  3. Proper Use of Fillers: Non-suspect “fillers” used in the lineup should match the witness’s description of the perpetrator and the suspect should not noticeably stand out.
  4. Confidence Statements: Immediately following the lineup procedure, the eyewitness should provide a statement, in his or her own words, that articulates the level of confidence in the identification.
  5. Recording: The entire identification procedure is videotaped.

Back in May, the Senate approved the Measure by a 24 to 8 vote.

SB 923 is sponsored by the California Innocence Coalition and the ACLU of California.

“The need for eyewitness identification reform is non-partisan and non-adversarial,” said the California Innocence Coalition. “Eyewitness identifications are important to securing rightful convictions, but when they are improperly obtained it is the leading cause of wrongful convictions. All sides of justice should want to adopt the best practices as another step towards improving our criminal justice system and ensuring innocent people are not wrongly incarcerated.”

“Wrongful convictions are one of the most devastating blights plaguing our justice system – affecting those wrongly convicted and survivors who turn to our legal system seeking justice, as well as society, which relies on this system to ensure overall community safety,” said Kathy Sher, Legislative Advocate with the ACLU of California. “By establishing long-overdue best practices for eyewitness identification, SB 923 will help protect the integrity of our justice system and promote safety.”

In May, the ACLU stated, “Wrongful convictions represent some of the most flagrant injustices plaguing our judicial system to date, with mistaken eyewitness identifications playing a significant and alarming role in the conviction of innocent people.”

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Jerry Waszczuk

    The California legal system is rotten by corruption . Check the background of the justices in 3DCA  who they were before they became justices . s . The court  system is very politicized. 3DCA is a Club of  the former   Chiefs-Legal Secretaries  for  California Governors.  Some never were served  on the bench in lower court like Justice  Andrea Hoch or Jonathan Renner .  Bill

    “Tragically, the system of “justice” in the United States—and especially in California—is little better than that of Russia and other authoritarian countries that try to silence their critics.
    The principal problem is that the judges are often egotistical, callous, mean-spirited, power-hungry, self-righteous, condescending and, yes, incompetent and arrogant. They can smile at you, just as easily as they can slit your throat and never think twice about doing it.

    Maybe this Bill will help a little but it is  a lot bigger  broader problem than   one  Senate or Assembly Bill about pointing fingers at somebody looks suspicious .

  2. John Hobbs

    “The California legal system is rotten by corruption”


    The criminal justice system is far from perfect with prosecutors given what amounts to bonuses for convictions, no questions asked.. Reform the way the police and prosecutors are funded to start solving the problem.

    [Moderator: you are violating the Vanguard Comment Policy.]

    1. Jerry Waszczuk

      Many Judges and Justices are former prosecutors and they are worse  in the courts , Their mind is set to convict at any means . 100 counts for 20 years in prison and plea agreement in exchange for 5 years .  If you see 20 years behind bars  versa 5 than maybe you will like better  5 years in prison than twenty .  This system is well established in USA . Next please .

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