Changing Texas Policy On Eyewitness Testimony

A hearing in Austin tonight will help lawmakers decide what policies to put in place for how police departments conduct eyewitness interviews and identifications.

During the legislative session, Texas lawmakers mandated the state put together a model of policies that law enforcement agencies can use for eyewitness procedures.

The state is seeking input from police departments — but also from stakeholders like the Innocence Project, the ACLU and exonerees.

ACLU Texas Policy Strategist Matt Simpson, who will testify at the hearing, says one of the main reasons for creating a standard is because eyewitness IDs are often unreliable.

"Of the 44 exonerations or wrongful convictions that have been identified in Texas, about 80 percent have been the result of erroneous eyewitness identification. It's a pretty common problem, particularly in wrongful conviction cases."

One of the policies the ACLU advocates is making certified translators available to non-English speaking eyewitnesses. Simpson says using a certified translator ensures the person is fully fluent and understands the subtleties of the language.

"Obviously, there's a huge difference between identifying someone and feeling certain about it and identifying someone and saying well I think that's maybe who it was. Some of that nuance is pretty important and making sure that we get the exact kind of confidence level of the witness is a key to making sure that we aren't wrongfully convicting people and just to ensure that the entire process works appropriately."

The new policies will go into effect some time next year and Texas law agencies will be required to operate within the guidelines.

The public hearing runs from 6 to 9 tonight at the state capital.

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Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...