Updated at 3:42 p.m.
During the D.C. Council's first legislative meeting of the year yesterday, Chair Phil Mendelson (D) introduced legislation aimed at reforming how police conduct eyewitness identifications during criminal investigations.
The bill would require training on best practices and mandate certain changes in procedure, including a directive that police do "double-blind" lineups, meaning the officer administering the lineup doesn't know who a suspect might be. Mendelson said during the meeting that although the Metropolitan Police Department made an effort several years ago to replace procedures that reflected "antiquated concepts," more changes were needed.
"We have seen instances over the last several years, not just in this jurisdiction, but elsewhere, of individuals who have, after serving some time in prison, been found actually innocent of the crime for which they were convicted, sometimes involving eyewitness identification which turned out to be inaccurate," Mendelson said.
The full text of the bill was not immediately available today, but Mendelson outlined some of the provisions in his remarks. Besides the double-blind requirement for lineups, the bill would require double-blind of "modified" non-blind photo arrays – when police ask witnesses to identify a suspect from a group of photos – and remedies for when procedures violate the law.
A spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Police Department said they did not have any comment at this time.
Shawn Armbrust, executive director of the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, said that if the council adopted what they consider best practices for eyewitness identifications, the city would join a growing number of jurisdictions, such as Virginia, to do so.
"They're not expensive, they're not hard, and we really think that everyone in D.C., including victims, would benefit from this new system because it's going to make things more accurate," she said.
According to the national Innocence Project, eyewitness misidentifications have played in role in approximately 75 percent of convictions that were overturned through DNA testing.
It wouldn't be the first time the council looked at how police conducted line-ups and photo arrays. Similar legislation was introduced in 2004, 2008 and 2009, but never made it to a vote, according to council records.
The bill will go to the council's judiciary and committee. Mendelson recently left his role as chair of that committee, handing the assignment over to Councilmember Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) beginning this year.
Mendelson co-introduced the bill with Councilmember Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3). Councilmembers Anita Bonds (D-At Large) and Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5) are co-sponsors.