Kentucky law enforcement would have to follow new guidelines while conducting suspect lineups under a bill proposed in the General Assembly.
The legislation would tweak police procedure to try and prevent a witness’ memory of a suspect or incident from being “contaminated” by suggestion.
Jennifer Thompson, a rape survivor who misidentified her perpetrator in 1984, said it’s easy to misremember events.
“We don’t record things the way we think we record them. Our brains are so malleable, they’re so prone to suggestion. It isn’t hard to plant false information into a person’s memory,” Thompson said.
“We do it all the time, either innocently or intentionally.”
The bill would require police departments to follow four new guidelines:
- The officer conducting a suspect lineup would not know who the suspect is.
- An investigating officer would be required to tell a witness that the real perpetrator “may or may not be” in the lineup and that the investigation will continue regardless of the results.
- Members of a suspect lineup would be required to have uniform appearance so that the suspect doesn’t stand out.
- Investigators would be required to take a statement of how confident the witness feels about their testimony.
Amshula Jayaram, state policy advocate with the National Innocence Project, said the policies would help ensure better accuracy in the investigation process.
“It’s a human process. If the officer knows that the third photo is the suspect, they might raise their eyebrows, they might give some little expression change that is not even intentional but will corrupt the process,” Jayaram said.
Police officers using a photo array instead of a lineup would be allowed to know the suspect, but they would be required to place the photos in separate folders and shuffle them before handing them to the witness.
Jayaram said the policies help take pressure off of witnesses.
“Allowing people to really understand that the cops haven’t figured it out yet, it’s not just a question of them picking one of the people in the lineup,” she said.
Wayne Turner, with the Kentucky Association of Chiefs of Police, said that the bill would be hard to implement.
“Sometimes when you get to the carnage of a major crime scene, you don’t have all the resources that you would have in an ideal world,” he said.
Turner, who is also the police chief for the City of Bellevue, said his 11-officer department would sometimes have difficulty assigning an officer who doesn’t know the suspect.
“That’s not realistic,” he said.
The Kentucky League of Cities also opposes the legislation. The organization says that such policies should be left up to local governments.
The bill was heard in the House Judiciary committee on Wednesday, but the panel didn’t take a vote. Supporters say they are working on a compromise with opponents.