Two cases of DNA exoneration in the Houston area is bringing the issue of eyewitness identification into the light. Two men who served a combined total of 46 years behind bars for offenses they didn’t commit can largely blame eyewitness identification for their convictions.
Allen Wayne Porter was 20 years old at the time of his conviction in 1990. He was sentenced to life and served 19 years for a rape and robbery charge. Michael Anthony Green was convicted of aggravated sexual assault at age 18 in 1983 and served 27 out of 75 years he was sentenced to.
Both men’s DNA ultimately set them free this summer. And they would likely still be languishing within the custody of the Texas prison system if it wasn’t for the Post Conviction Review Section in the Harris County District Attorney’s office.
In Texas alone, 80% of all cases of DNA exonerations have involved error in eyewitness identification, according to the Innocence Project of Texas. This fact should be enough to change the way that witness are interviewed, the way they are presented line ups, and the weight of their statements at trial.
According to the Houston Chronicle at least one law maker has been trying to change the way things are done on a state level for years. Senator Rodney Ellis sponsored legislation that would’ve adopted the best practices for eyewitness identification. Unfortunately it failed.
Small steps taken by local and state level agencies could prevent wrongful convictions. Point blank. And small changes like administering photo lineups sequentially rather than laying a series of photos all out at once can make a big difference.
It seems strange and frankly somewhat appalling in the light of these two most recent cases that law makers and enforcement alike wouldn’t be jumping at the chance to make these relatively small procedural changes. Simply telling the witness, “the suspect may or may not be in the lineup” can significantly reduce the likelihood that the witness will feel compelled to choose someone even if they aren’t sure the right person is in the photos.
While false accusations and faulty eyewitness testimony isn’t common, it does happen. And it doesn’t only happen in serious cases of rape and murder. It can happen even in misdemeanor possession cases or assault cases.
If you’re accused of a crime you don’t feel you had anything to do with, we can help. Even if you made a mistake but you think the charges against you are way more serious than warranted—we can discuss your options.
Contact our attorneys today to talk about how the system works and what can be done to protect your rights.