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Bill Aimed At Ending Wrongful Convictions Passes Senate

Credit Michelle Wirth / WABE

Keeping those who are innocent out of prison is the goal of a bill that recently gained approval in the state Senate.

Over the years, there have been problems with some police lineups in Georgia. That’s according to Aimee Maxwell with the Georgia Innocence Project.

“In Georgia 100 percent of our DNA exonerations had absolutely positive victims who identified the wrong guy,” says Maxwell.

That’s happened eight times in the past 15 years. To make sure police don’t influence eyewitnesses, a bill gaining Senate approval last week would require law enforcement to adopt new policies.

Those include making sure the person in charge of the lineup doesn’t know who the suspect is. A witness would also be told a suspect may or not be in the lineup.

“Our hope is that this will reduce the number of wrongful convictions,” says Maxwell.

In the past, similar bills have been opposed by law enforcement, including the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police.  But this year, the organization is embracing the current legislation. Frank  Rotondo heads the association.

“Science has shown this is the better approach. That’s been supported by national studies and national reviews,” says Rotondo.

Rotondo says he likes this year’s bill better because it doesn’t block eyewitness testimony in trials simply because police didn’t follow proper procedure. Still, Rotondo says putting the new policies and procedures into law makes them more difficult for departments to change if better ones come along.

A Georgia Innocence Project study found that about 60 percent of Georgia law enforcement agencies don’t have eyewitness identification policies. Rotondo refutes those numbers. He says most medium and large departments already have in place. Under the bill, departments would be required to have them by July of next year.