Jennifer was, in many ways, let down by the police department’s lack of utilizing the most accurate identification methods, known to criminal justice professionals as “best practices.” She was victimized twice: first by being raped, second by lack of best practices being used. These factors led to an innocent man being wrongfully convicted and to Jennifer having that on her conscience. The psychological after-effects of both are tremendous, and there is no doubt her meeting with Ron and his accepting of her apology was a huge part of her healing.
Many victims don’t accept the innocence of the wrongfully convicted, because of their need to believe that in their mind they had not blamed, hated, etc., the wrong person, and this stagnates them. But Jennifer was bigger than that. For her to then become an advocate is nothing short of incredible, and she has made a tremendous difference in the innocence movement. To make the system more accurate, we need as many people as possible working for change through the various avenues open to them, and coming at it from different perspectives.
The wrongfully convicted and crime victims are not enemies; they are victims of both the actual perpetrator as well as the justice system’s deficiencies. The innocence movement needs more crime victims and/or witnesses who misidentified an exoneree to become advocates. Outside of Michelle Malin, I don’t know of any others who have. Working to prevent future victims from suffering is a high moral calling.
Jennifer’s friendship with Ronald is remarkable, and such a beacon of light representing all this good about humanity. I consider her to be an example for all. For Ronald not to be angry at Jennifer, to forgive her, and then to become friends with her is also laudable.
I want thank the Soros Foundation for giving them a grant to write a book together, entitled “Picking Cotton,” and for St. Martin’s Griffin for publishing that book. If you have not read it, I encourage you to do so.
Over 75% of the 330 DNA-proven wrongful convictions are the result of misidentification. What changes in the system could have prevented this tragedy?
1. Witnesses should be shown one person at a time in a photo array and/or lineup, so that each person can be ruled in or out based on memory, rather than being compared to everyone to see who most closely resembles the memory of the witness.
2. Everyone in the lineup or photo array should resemble the description, so that nobody unduly sticks out.
3. Witnesses should be told that the perpetrator may not be in the lineup or photo array, so that undue confidence does not occur; the need to be careful in selection remains paramount.
4. Witnesses should be asked, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how confident are you in your selection?” This is important because by the time a trial occurs, the confidence level of a witness has been increased due to multiple prep sessions by the prosecutor and testifying at one or two pre-trial hearings. The collection of this early evidence is crucial.
5. Let witnesses know that if an identification is not made, the investigation will continue so that no one feels pressure to make an identification lest the perpetrator escape justice.
6. The double-blind method should be used, so that the officer conducting the photo array does not know who is suspected, thus avoiding inadvertent or purposeful cues or clues being given.
7. Videotape the entire process to preserve the most precise recounting of procedures utilized rather than having to rely on memory, which fades over time, or by the deliberate omission of unfavorable details by rogue police officers.
8. Witnesses should not be congratulated afterwards, because this artificially bolsters the confidence of the witness.
State and federal government should legislate best practices. It is not enough to rely on voluntary compliance, because not all jurisdictions at all times will utilize them, nor will the failure to do so always be honorable. Appropriate some money for recording equipment and storage. It is better to invest some money on the front end and prevent wrongful convictions, prevent crime victims from being doubly victimized, prevent the actual perpetrators from getting away with it, and having to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars defending lawsuits and paying out millions of dollars to the wrongfully convicted. Consider it money spent on public safety.
“The Security Brief” Takeaways:
Personal Level: Defendant
1. If you are wrongfully convicted and/or false accused of a crime, look for a similar crime in a nearby area.
2. Don’t take the law into your own hands; if Ronald had stabbed the actual perpetrator, he would still be in prison for that crime even though the original charges against him were dismissed.
Personal Level: Witness/Victim
1. Ask the police to show you photo’s or people in a lineup one at a time so that you can rule each person in or out on their own merits, as opposed to comparing everybody to see who best resembles your memory.
2. Know that the actual perpetrator may not be in the lineup or photo array. Don’t feel pressure to select someone; the investigation is supposed to continue if you don’t make an identification initially.
3. If you do misidentify someone, as proven by DNA, accept their innocence. Science is more reliable than your memory!
4. Understand that although you played a role in helping to convict the wrong person, this is significantly mitigated by the fact that authorities did not utilize best practices, and thus they bear the lion’s share of blame.
5. Consider becoming an advocate.
Personal Level: Police
1. Use best practices, whether mandated by state law or not.
2. Advocate for passage of best-practice legislation when bills come up for consideration. Don’t you want only the real criminals to be arrested and convicted?
Personal Level: Government/Legislature and Governor
1. Pass legislation mandating that best practices be utilized.
2. Appropriate some money for recording equipment, storage, and preservation.
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