2007-2008 CALIFORNIA LEGISLATIVE SESSION

Mistaken Witness ID and False Confessions

The two most common causes of wrongful conviction are mistaken eyewitness identification and false confessions. In death penalty cases, the number one cause of wrongful convictions is false testimony by informant witnesses. Modern DNA evidence has proven that innocent people are sent to prison and even sentenced to death for crimes they did not commit far more often than we think. But we can change that.

The California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice is a blue ribbon Commission chaired by former Attorney General John Van de Kamp, and made up of prosecutors, law enforcement officers, and defense attorneys. To prevent wrongful convictions and make sure that the guilty person is caught, the Commission has recommended that police be required to use modern, “best practices” in line up procedures, that all interrogations be recorded in cases of violent felonies, and that the testimony of jailhouse informants be backed up by independent evidence.

Three bills would make these reforms law.

Assembly Member Mark Leno will re-introduce legislation this year that would improve California’s eyewitness identification procedures, using scientific standards. Improving these procedures will simultaneously decrease the rate of wrongful conviction and increase our ability to convict those who are truly guilty.

Senator Elaine Alquist will re-introduce legislation this year that would require that interrogations of individuals in custody for violent offenses be electronically recorded. Experts agree that recording interrogations is the most important reform to prevent false confessions and ensure that the guilty are convicted.

Senator Gloria Romero plans to introduce legislation this year that would require that testimony by jailhouse informants be corroborated by independent evidence. Corroboration is already required for accomplice testimony. This bill simply extends that rule to jailhouse informants.