Bradford R. Fenocchio
PLACER COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY
10810 Justice Center Drive, Suite 240
Roseville, California 95678
For Immediate Release
Date: September 1, 2010
Public Information Officer
Assistant District Attorney
PLACER COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY’S OFFICE GETS
HIGH MARKS FOR SUSPECT IDENTIFICATION POLICIES
A California group that investigates cases of wrongful convictions based on eyewitness misidentification has praised the Placer County District Attorney’s Office for initiating policies to ensure innocent people aren’t being prosecuted or convicted.
Northern California Project Innocence, based in Santa Clara, singled out the Placer office for adopting policies for photo lineups, live lineups and in-field showups.
In addition, the Placer office developed a training video to assist law enforcement agencies in how to conduct identification procedures, the group noted.
The policies, developed by Senior Deputy District Attorney Garen Horst, have been well-received by the Placer County Sheriff’s Office and by police departments and other law enforcement agencies within Placer County.
Maitreya Badami, supervising attorney for Project Innocence, said her group has requested identification policies from more than 400 law enforcement agencies in California for a survey. She said the best policies came from Santa Clara and Placer counties.
“You would expect Santa Clara to be in there because that’s where our group is located and we’ve made a lot of noise about making identifications,” Badami said. ”We also liked Placer County because they sent us a power point presentation of their policies and later sent us a video that can be used for training.
“I also liked that at the beginning of Placer’s presentation, Mr. Horst mentioned the goals of their identification policy. He said the most important goal was accuracy, or the protection of the innocent.
“That’s not necessarily the first thing that law enforcement agencies would think about. Most of the time, a police agency has identified a suspect and they’re looking to prove the person guilty. I certainly understand that. But before you go too far, you have to make sure you are protecting the innocent.”
Two other goals in the Placer presentation included producing admissible identification in court and the producing of identification that is persuasive evidence for a jury, Badami said.
Horst said Placer law enforcement agencies did not have a uniform policy on the identification of suspects. Each department had been operating with its own set of lineup procedures and policies, he said.
The differing policies had the potential to make prosecution difficult for the District Attorney’s Office, he said.
With encouragement from Roseville Police Detective Doug Blake, Horst developed policies to aid and instruct law enforcement agencies to conduct live lineups, photo lineups and in-field showups, in which a victim or witness might be able to identify a suspect at a crime or arrest scene.
After receiving the training from Horst, Detective Blake has been “instrumental in implementing the new procedures throughout the Roseville Police Department,” Horst said.
Roseville Police Lt. Mike Doane said his department welcomes the new policies.
“The nice thing about this is that any of our local law enforcement agencies can go to the policies, and in every live lineup, every photo lineup or every in-field showup, it will be done the same way,” he said.
Horst also drew up admonition forms, which are to be used by victims and witnesses in the lineups. The forms stress that the victim or witness is under no obligation to pick someone from a lineup and that investigation into the crime will continue, regardless of whether the witness or victim can choose someone in the lineup.
Doane said witnesses sometimes feel that since they’re in a police station and are being shown photos of suspects, they can’t leave the station without selecting a photo for the officers.
“Crime victims want to cooperate with the police and they may feel the pressure to select someone from a photo lineup,” Doane said. “The new policy will help relieve some of that pressure, focusing on accuracy and reminding them that it’s okay not to identify a photo.”
In the training video, Horst urges officers not to influence victims or witnesses by their comments or conduct, and to watch out for inadvertent things that they might do that could be suggestive.
The new policies have also paved the way for a return to the old-fashioned police live lineup at a jail.
Until a month ago when Rocklin police employed a live lineup, veteran peace officers in Placer County couldn’t recall the last time any of their agencies had used a live lineup so that a victim or witness could pick out a suspect.
On July 21, Rocklin used a lineup consisting of five possible suspects at the Placer County jail in Auburn. A witness, looking through a two-way mirror, identified a person whom police had pegged as their primary suspect.
Rocklin Police Detective Brad Alford said two witnesses previously had been unable to identify the suspect in a traditional photo lineup. The live lineup proved beneficial, he said.
“I definitely would do it again if a case came along where we were having trouble getting an identification,” Alford said.
Also instrumental in making sure live lineups at the county jail are performed without a problem is the Placer County Sheriff’s Office, Horst said.
“They were extremely cooperative and creative in modifying their facilities to accommodate a live lineup,” Horst said, giving credit to Sheriff’s Sgt. Rabinder Sandhu, who is the point person for the live lineups in the jail.
Horst developed uniform policies after reviewing the 2008 report of the California Commission for the Fair Administration of Justice and its recommendations.
The commission stated that mistaken eyewitness identification was a factor in 80 percent of DNA exoneration cases. The exonerations prompted studies regarding the ability of witnesses to make identifications.
One misidentification in 2007 in Sacramento resulted in a 24-year-old man sitting in jail for 53 days for a crime he did not commit. Five witnesses using photo lineups picked the wrong man.
Badami said she hopes Placer County’s identification policies will become an example for the state.
“California is not cleaned up. There are a lot of agencies falling short on their identification policies,” she said. “We hope they take Placer’s lead and get it done.”