Policy Matters is a series of reports that provide timely research and guidance on issues that are of concern to policymakers at the local, state, and national levels.

Volume 7, Issue 1 by Steven E. Clark is entitled Eyewitness Identification: California Reform Redux.



Executive Summary

The link between false eyewitness identification and false convictions of the innocent has motivated a national movement to reform the police procedures that are used to obtain eyewitness evidence as well as the legal procedures that regulate the use of that evidence. The reforms include recommendations that police avoid using “single-suspect showup identification” procedures in favor of lineups that include a minimum of five “known-innocent fillers” who match a description of the perpetrator; that police instruct the witness that the perpetrator may not be present in the identification procedure, that the witness is not required to make an identification, and that the investigation will not stop based on the witness’s response; that lineups should be presented sequentially by a blind administrator; that police immediately obtain a statement of confidence from the witness; and that all procedures be video recorded. California appears to have lagged behind and to have resisted reforms that have been adopted in other states. However, new social science data, theory, and analysis have changed the research landscape, suggesting that the reforms that have been adopted in California were on solid scientific footing whereas some of the reforms that California resisted were indeed on shaky ground. As the new research evolves, it is useful to reconsider eyewitness reform in California and to develop a framework for future policy improvements.

STEVEN E. CLARK is professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside, and director of the Presley Center for Crime & Justice Studies, an affiliated research center of the UCR School of Public Policy. He can be reached at steven.clark@ucr.edu.