February 12th, 2014
Last week, the Vermont State Senate voted to pass two bills co-authored by the New England and National Innocence Projects. The two bills aim to mandate law enforcement’s use of best practices when conducting eyewitness identification procedures and false confessions. As research has shown, these are the leading contributing factors of wrongful convictions nationwide. In a study of the first 312 DNA exonerations, eyewitness misidentification was a factor in almost 75% of cases and false confessions were given in about 25%. These bills aim to reduce the prevalence of these factors by ensuring that their causes are addressed.
The eyewitness identification bill requires that every police department in the state of Vermont adopt a policy to conduct such identifications that includes a set of best practices such as giving instructions to the witness, administering the procedure blindly (where the administrator does not know the identity of the suspect), and using an adequate number of fillers.
The bill mandating the recording of custodial interrogations applies only to murder and sexual assault cases. Under the new law, police will be required to make an audio and video recording of the interrogation beginning after a suspect’s Miranda rights are read. In the case of both bills, the failure of the police to conduct the procedure in accordance with the statue will give defendants a way to fight the accuracy of that procedure in court.
NEIP is extremely happy that these bills have progressed this far and hope they will pass through the Vermont House of Representatives quickly and smoothly. We thank our partners in the Vermont legislature and our colleagues in New York for their immense support of this important work. We’d also like to recognize the amazing contributions to this work made by Chief William Brooks of Norwood and NEIP Exoneree Dennis Maher. Both traveled to Vermont with NEIP Staff Attorney, Andrew Pappone, on January 16 and testified brilliantly. Additional thanks to Jennifer Thompson who joined us by phone, and our colleagues in New York who provided an amazing amount of support and guidance throughout the process.