Los Angeles Police Department Resists Changes to Eyewitness Identification Procedures

Studies show that eyewitness identifications can be notoriously unreliable unless conducted using known best practices such as blind administration and sequential presentation. However, the Los Angeles Police Department is still reluctant to enact reforms that have been sweeping the nation in recent years.

The Los Angeles Times recently had several transcripts from eyewitness interviews recorded by two Los Angeles detectives reviewed by identification experts. Scientific research suggests that investigators can unintentionally influence witnesses through seemingly insignificant comments such as telling a witness to take their time.

In the case of Marlon Morales, LAPD detectives presented the witness with a photographic lineup including six pictures with their suspect, Morales, in the fourth slot. The witness first picked the third photo. The detective told her to keep looking and she eventually picked the fourth and sixth photos. According to the transcript, the detective then said, “I kept seeing you go to four… Was [there] a reason you kept comparing everybody to No. 4?” The detective also showed the witness a separate picture of the suspect in the fourth slot. The witness picked four as the perpetrator and still to this day believes Marlon Morales was the murderer even though he was eventually acquitted.

Roy Malpass, a recently retired psychology and criminal justice professor at the University of Texas, El Paso, reviewed the transcript of the Morales identification. Malpass described it as “the most amazing example of bias I’ve ever read.” LAPD Deputy Chief David Doan agrees that showing the witness a separate photo of the suspect was suggestive but Chief Charlie Beck maintains that the detectives assigned to the case have the best chance of building a rapport with their witnesses and recognizing when a witness is holding something back.

David Angel, head of the Santa Clara District Attorney’s conviction integrity unit, disagrees. He told Times, “If you can tell juries that you have done everything you can to minimize mistakes, it’s only going to help your case.” Santa Clara county instituted eyewitness identification reforms over 10 years ago. Police in Denver and Boston have changed their lineup policies as have New Jersey, Connecticut, North Carolina and Texas. Just last month Virginia recommended its law enforcement agencies use best practices.

However, in California, many law enforcement agencies, including the LAPD, are still opposed to uniform guidelines and reform policies.

Read the entire Los Angeles Times article here.

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