Despite nine exonerations, Orange County eyewitness identification policies remain unchanged

On November 30, 2012, Alfonso Gomez became Orange County’s ninth exoneration based on eyewitness misidentification, according to the National Registry of Exonerations. During Gomez’s trial, deputy district attorney Howard Gundy told the jury that the two witnesses who identified Gomez as the shooter were “righteous” and “certain.” Both Gundy and the witnesses were wrong.

Eyewitness identification mistakes remain a hefty cause of wrongful convictions. California has seen 46 total exonerations based on eyewitness misidentification and nationally 42 percent of all exonerations since 1989 have involved eyewitness errors, according to the National Registry of Exonerations.

Yet, Orange County law enforcement still has not adopted best practices for eyewitness identification procedures. Out of the seven jurisdictions to have an exoneration based on eyewitness misidentification (Santa Ana, Orange, Costa Mesa, Newport Beach, Tustin, Buena Park and Fullerton) only Buena Park has since enacted eyewitness reforms according to a survey by the Orange County Register. In September, Buena Park police department adopted double-blind and sequential practices for lineups which drastically reduces unintentional cues which can direct witnesses to pick a certain suspect. Buena Park’s police training coordinator, Corporal Andy Luong, told the Register, “It made a lot of sense to us. It made the process a lot cleaner and we believe it maintains the integrity of the cases and there is less chance of a case being tainted.”

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