THE INNOCENCE PROJECT ON LAPD CHIEF BECK’S DISTASTE FOR BLIND LINEUPS
According to the Innocence Project, eyewitness’ mistaken identifications account for the majority of wrongful convictions. Despite this fact, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck remains opposed to the use of “blind lineups,” which are conducted by officers not involved in the case who have no knowledge of the suspect’s identity. Chief Beck reasons that officers not connected to the case will not have the established rapport that an involved officer would have with the eyewitness.
In an Op Ed for the LA Times, Barry C. Scheck, co-director, and Karen A. Newirth, eyewitness identification litigation fellow at the Innocence Project, say that in terms of false identifications, the cost of using involved officers is not worth the benefit. Here’s how their essay opens:
Nearly 300 American men and women wrongly convicted of crimes have been exonerated by DNA testing. And in the bulk of those cases — almost 75% — the convictions were based in part on faulty eyewitness identifications.
Witnesses are often asked to identify suspects from photo lineups, which are typically conducted by the officers investigating a crime. But numerous scientific studies on memory and identification have demonstrated that witnesses can be influenced, intentionally or not, by the person conducting a lineup. An officer who believes one of the people in a photo lineup is the likely perpetrator can influence — sometimes without even meaning to — the proceeding.
This has led scientists to recommend “blind” lineups, meaning that the officer who conducts the lineup shouldn’t be aware of the identity of the suspect, so that he or she can’t contaminate the identification procedure.
Many cities, as well as many states, have embraced this approach. Los Angeles is not one of them. Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck refuses to embrace blind photo lineups. He told reporters that his reluctance was based on the belief that an officer close to the case would be more likely to have rapport with witnesses, and that this could produce better outcomes.
Beck’s reluctance should be allayed not just by scientific studies or the adoption of blind administration as a best practice by groups like the International Assn. of Chiefs of Police, but by more than a decade of success in the field, including statewide programs in New Jersey, North Carolina and Texas.
13-YEAR-OLD WITH A TRAGIC UPBRINGING FACES MURDER CHARGES IN AN ADULT COURT
Cristian Fernandez, a thirteen-year-old FL boy, will be tried as an adult for allegedly murdering his two-year-old brother and sexually assaulting a five-year-old brother. Cristian’s childhood was steeped in violence, sexual attacks, and death, leading some advocates to ask if adult court is the right place for him to be tried and sentenced. In fact, many of the adults that will decide Cristian’s future seem unsure how to proceed.
The Huffington Post has the AP story by Tamara Lush. Here’s how it opens:
A decade before he was charged with murder, a 2-year-old Cristian Fernandez was found naked and dirty, wandering a South Florida street. The grandmother taking care of him had holed up with cocaine in a messy motel room, while his 14-year-old mother was nowhere to be found.
His life had been punctuated with violence since he was conceived, an act that resulted in a sexual assault conviction against his father. Fernandez’ life got worse from there: He was sexually assaulted by a cousin and beaten by his stepfather, who committed suicide before police investigating the beating arrived.
The boy learned to squelch his feelings, once telling a counselor: “You got to suck up feelings and get over it.”
Now 13, Fernandez is accused of two heinous crimes himself: first-degree murder in the 2011 beating death of his 2-year-old half-brother and the sexual abuse of his 5-year-old half-brother. He’s been charged as an adult and is the youngest inmate awaiting trial in Duval County.
If convicted of either crime, Fernandez could face a life sentence — a possibility that has stirred strong emotions among those for and against such strict punishment. The case is one of the most complex and difficult in Florida’s courts, and it could change how first-degree murder charges involving juvenile defendants are handled statewide.
Underscoring the unusual nature of the case, Fernandez’ defense attorneys said they aren’t sure how to proceed since the U.S. Supreme Court threw out mandatory life in prison without parole for juvenile offenders in June. Another complication involves whether Fernandez understood his rights during police interrogations.
Richard Kuritz, a former Jacksonville prosecutor who is now a defense attorney, said everyone agrees that Fernandez should face consequences if convicted — but what should they be?
“What would be a fair disposition? I don’t suspect this case is going to end anytime soon,” said Kuritz, who has been following the case closely.
Supporters of local State Attorney Angela Corey say she’s doing the right thing by trying Fernandez as an adult: holding a criminal accountable to the full extent of the law. But others, like Carol Torres, say Fernandez should be tried in juvenile court and needs help, not life in prison.
SEX OFFENDER PROXIMITY LAW FOUND UNCONSTITUTIONAL, LEAVES PAROLEES WITH NOWHERE TO LIVE
The Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled last week that a law forbidding CA sex offenders on probation from living within 2,000 feet of a school or park is unconstitutional. According to the court, the CA law, Prop 83, makes it virtually impossible for the parolees to find housing, and many end up living on the streets.
(Note: While we at WitnessLA don’t want sex offenders around our kids either, they need to be able to live somewhere. A law that makes housing inaccessible is wrongheaded—and was, frankly, from the beginning when it was passed.)
The SF Chronicle’s Bob Egelko has the story. Here’s a clip:
Wednesday’s ruling was in response to a suit by four ex-offenders in San Diego County who said it was virtually impossible to find affordable housing in the county that complied with the 2,000-foot restriction imposed by the 2006 ballot measure, Proposition 83. A lawyer for parolees said the ruling should apply equally in the Bay Area and most of the state’s population centers.
“It’s broadly generalizable to the metropolitan Bay Area,” said attorney Ernest Galvan.
If the ruling stands on appeal, he said, the 2,000-foot exclusion would no longer be enforceable as an across-the-board restriction on all paroled sex offenders, regardless of their circumstances.
As the court noted, however, parole officers who supervise individual parolees would still have the authority to impose similar or even greater limits on where and with whom they live, depending on their crimes and personal histories.
About 10,400 parolees statewide are registered sex offenders covered by Prop. 83′s residency restriction, according to the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
GET WELL SOON, CHIEF
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck returned to work yesterday after breaking his collarbone in a motocross accident last Thursday. (We hope Chief Beck heals quickly, but nonetheless think it’s cool that our Chief of Police rides motocross.) Here’s a quote from Beck’s 2011 interview in Dirt Rider Magazine:
High-speed pursuit driving and riding a dirt bike are a little bit alike. Both things are about learning how to control yourself in stressful situations and being able to make good decisions even when adrenaline is pumping.
PHOTO CREDIT: Dirt Rider Magazine