Four years after Vermont passed legislation to allow post-conviction DNA testing, state legislators are now considering two bills — SB 184 and SB 297 — to improve eyewitness identification procedures and to prevent false confessions. The bills received a two-day hearing in the Vermont Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this month.
Mistaken eyewitness identifications contributed to nearly 75 percent of the 312 wrongful convictions in the United States that were overturned by post-conviction DNA evidence. SB 184 would implement “blind” lineup procedures, a best practice in which the officer who administers the lineup is unaware of the identity of the suspect in order to prevent the administrator from inadvertently or intentionally influencing the eyewitness.
SB 297 would require the electronic recording of interrogations for violent crimes in order to protect against false confessions. In approximately 25 percent of the wrongful convictions overturned through DNA evidence, defendants made false confessions or admissions to law enforcement officials. The electronic recording of interrogations, from the reading of Miranda rights onward, is the single best reform available to stem the tide of false confessions by creating a record of the interrogation.