Law Enforcement Breaking Law? New Innocence Project Report Finds Slow Adoption of CA Eyewitness ID Laws 

By Bryan Miller

SACRAMENTO, CA – The Northern California Innocence Project (NCIP) this past week released its latest report called “Blind Acceptance,” a groundbreaking review of law enforcement eyewitness identification policies across California.

According to the NCIP, “The report shows that most law enforcement agencies are failing to adhere to California Penal Code § 859.7,” which was passed in 2018 and enacted in 2020. 

NCIP charged, “the California Innocence Coalition spent more than a dozen years educating the law enforcement community on eyewitness identification best practices, and on advocating for legislative reform,” noting, “For nearly four decades, scientists have demonstrated the fragility and malleability of eyewitness memory. 

“In 2018, after years of training and legislative advocacy by the California Innocence Coalition and others, Senator Scott Weiner and Assemblymember Marc Levine authored Senate Bill (SB) 923”  to  require “all California law enforcement agencies to adopt and implement evidence-based practices in their eyewitness identification procedures.” 

According to the NCIP, the bill’s goal was to answer two questions— “to what extent have California police agencies incorporated evidence-based eyewitness identification practices into their policy manuals in compliance with the new law, and, how adequate are the written policies of those California police agencies that have adopted evidence-based eyewitness identification practices?” 

In the conclusion of the report, the NCIP states, “The California legislature’s enactment of Penal Code § 859.7 was a positive step toward ensuring that California law enforcement agencies adopt evidence-based eyewitness identification policies and practices to reduce the risks of misidentifications.” 

NCIP added its team found that “95 percent of agencies have adopted eyewitness identification policies addressing most requirements under the statue is a sign that agencies have begun to embrace this change in the law.” 

According to the NCIP report, “Lexipol’s influence over California law enforcement policymaking has also contributed to the increase in agencies’ incorporation of evidence-based practices into their policies.” 

However, NCIP adds that “while agencies’ use of and adherence to Lexipol-created policies may bring consistency to policy and practice statewide, it also creates a risk of non-compliance with California Penal Code § 859.7.” 

NCIP said, “Police agencies bear the ultimate responsibility to ensure their policy manuals and practices comply with the law” and, “Based on the small number of agencies that have modified their Lexipol-produced eyewitness identification policy, it appears that many California police agencies have abdicated that responsibility to a for-profit company, thereby privatizing a public function.”

About The Author

Bryan Miller is a fourth year political science - public service major at UC Davis. He has a desire to pursue law in the future and has a large interest in the justice system and constitutional law. In his free time Bryan likes to spend time outdoors fishing and hiking.

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