Reformers denied full access to police-lineup data

June 30, 2008 4:48:40 PM PDT
There was a legal setback in Chicago Monday for critics who want to do away with traditional police lineups.\Many say mistakes are often made by eyewitnesses and that lineups aren't always reliable.

Northwestern University's MacArthur Justice Center was hoping to gain access to police files that would help criminal defense attorneys prove that a taxpayer funded study is flawed. The 2006 report concluded that traditional lineups are more effective than new procedures. But on Monday, a judge ruled that the National Association of Criminal Defense can only have limited access to files involving closed cases only.

Robert Wilson will never take his freedom for granted. He spent nine years in prison for a crime he didn't commit. Two years ago, Wilson was exonerated on an attempted murder conviction. The evidence against him included an eyewitness identification by a line-up.

"They told me taht the victim identified me. And I was totally shocked, and I was disgusted and frustrated," Wilson said.

"There was a manipulated process where the police suggested to victim that she should identify Robert, and that's wrong," said Locke Bowman, legal director, MJC.

According to the MacArthur Justice Center, in Illinois, 54 people have been wrongfully convicted because of erroneous eyewitness identifications. Legal director Bowman said it's time for the Chicago Police Department and others to use different lineup procedures rather than the traditional kind, where all the suspects stand together.

"The better way to do it, the way Chicago police should do it but don't do it, is to do it sequentially. Show the witness one individual, have that person be examined and have the witness make a decision - up or down," said Bowman.

And Bowman says the line up should be conducted by an officer who does not know who the suspect is in the line up. The MacArthur Justice Center was hoping a 2006 report on police line ups commissioned by the Illinois state legislature would help bolster the push for reform. Instead, it did the opposite.

Now, several states are using the report to say reform is not needed. The MacArthur Justice Center, criminal defense lawyers and experts believe the report is flawed and they were hoping to prove it by legally forcing the Chicago Police Department to release data and case files used in the report, but a judge ruled that information in open cases can remain sealed.

Bowman and the National Association of Criminal Defense lawyers were disappointed in Monday's court ruling. They plan to appeal.

The judge and the city of Chicago's legal department said handing over information from open police cases would interfere with ongoing investigations and would be an invasion of privacy.


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