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Marc Gann Named To Innocence Project Committee To Address Eyewitness Identification Reform In New York

MARCGANNCMG partner Marc Gann has been asked to join a committee created by the Innocence Project that has been set up to address a variety of issues in the area of eyewitness identification in New York.  Gann is one of 25 defense lawyers from around New York City and upstate New York asked to join this important committee – and will also be working on a special subcommittee working to challenge/improve practices in the critical area of eyewitness identification. 

The Innocence Project is a national litigation and public policy organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted people through DNA testing and reforming the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice. Since the organization’s founding, 311 people have been exonerated through DNA testing in the United States, including 18 who were at one time sentenced to death.

According to data from the Innocence Project, the most common element in all wrongful convictions later overturned by DNA evidence has been eyewitness misidentification — with mistaken eyewitnesses being shown to have contributed to approximately 73% of the 311 wrongful convictions in the U.S. overturned by post-conviction DNA evidence.  Despite proof of the inaccuracy of traditional eyewitness identification procedures, these traditional eyewitness identifications remain among the most commonly used and compelling evidence brought against criminal defendants.  However, many are challenging traditional eyewitness identification practices and the problems cause by mistaken identifications – which not only threaten the innocent, but also can derail investigations as police focus on finding evidence against an innocent person, allowing the real perpetrator to get away.

Most law enforcement agencies, including those in New York, continue to use the same methods they have used for decades – live and photo lineups, often conducted without a blind administrator or proper instructions.  This system proves stressful for victims and eyewitnesses, who can make  mistakes.  Whether the mistakes are triggered by a gap in memory, their desire to make an identification or even subtle cues by police – intentional or not – misidentifications are a true problem in today’s criminal justice system. . 

The Innocence Project continues to seek reform to our eyewitness identification system and endorses a range of procedural reforms to improve the accuracy of eyewitness identifications.  Some of these reforms, which have been recognized by police, prosecutorial and judicial experience as well as national justice organizations including the National Institute of Justice and the American Bar Association, include:

  • The Double-blind Procedure/Use of a Blind Administrator – where neither the administrator or the eyewitness knows who the subject is (in a standard lineup today, the lineup administrator typically knows who the suspect is.)
  • Sequential Presentation of Lineups (rather than presenting lineup members simultaneously as in a standard lineup today )
  • Instructions by the lineup administration to deter the eyewitness from feeling compelled to make a selection (in a standard lineup today the eyewitness often assumes that the perpetrator is one of those being presented in the lineup)

To date, changes recommended by the National Institute of Justice, the Innocence Project and others have proven to be successful in a number of other jurisdictions – with New Jersey, North Carolina, Wisconsin and several other large cities implementing new procedures, and improving the quality of their eyewitness identifications.  As part of this important committee at the Innocence Project, Marc will be working closely with the Innocence Project and other top defense attorneys throughout the region to address improving the way police conduct lineups and the way courts consider the evidence here in New York – working to bring reform and a change in New York law when it comes to eyewitness identification. 

Visit our website regularly for further updates about Marc Gann’s work on this committee and the strides being made to address this vital issue in criminal defense and bring about much-needed reform to our eyewitness identification program in New York.  In addition, if you or anyone you know has questions about eyewitness identification – or might be affected by misidentifications leading to a wrongful conviction, call us 24/7 at 516-294-0300.  As always, Collins, McDonald & Gann remains committed to protecting the constitutional rights of all individuals, and we look forward to continuing to help bring about important reforms such as this that will have a significant impact on our criminal justice system here in  New York.

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