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SB 923 Creates Statewide Standards in CA for Eyewitness Identifications
Senate Bill 923 was signed into law by Gov. Brown in September 2018. The bill establishes several new standards that must be used in eyewitness identification procedures, as used in California criminal investigations.
For example, under SB 923, immediately after viewing a lineup of suspects, an eyewitness has to provide a statement that voices his level of confidence in the identification of a wrongdoer.
SB 923 marks a change in California law. Prior to the bill, there were no statewide standards governing eyewitness identifications.
New Laws Under Senate Bill 923
Senate Bill 923 applies to eyewitness identification procedures. “Eyewitness identifications” are when a witness of a crime views photos of people, or actual lineups of persons, and tries to identify the person that committed the crime. Eyewitness identifications are greatly used in California criminal investigations.
SB 923 creates several standards that must now be used in the eyewitness identification process. Some of these include:
Prior to conducting the identification procedure, the eyewitness must provide a description of the person suspected of committing the crime.
Officers conducting a lineup must not have knowledge of a suspect’s identity (so as to prevent suggestiveness).
Prior to the procedure, eyewitnesses should be told that the perpetrator may or may not be in the lineup or photos.
All eyewitnesses shall be separated when viewing an identification procedure.
Nothing shall be said during the procedure that may influence an eyewitness’ identification of the alleged suspect.
Non-suspect “fillers” must be used in a lineup that match the eyewitness’ description of the suspect.
Immediately after a lineup, the witness must provide a statement that voices his level of confidence in the identification.
The entire identification procedure must be videotaped.
Laws Prior to Senate Bill 923
SB 923 significantly changed California’s existing law regarding eyewitness identification procedures. Under the State’s old law, some law enforcement agencies in certain California counties did have procedures in place to help improve the reliability of eyewitness identifications. However, there were no statewide standards governing eyewitness identifications
The reasoning for Senate Bill 923
Proponents of the new laws support them for three main reasons. These are:
They create a more fair and equitable justice system.
The new laws help prevent the conviction of innocent people.
They enhance public safety by keeping the focus on the actual person that committed a crime.
Since 1991, 66 people in California have been wrongly convicted of a crime, and imprisoned, because of an eyewitness misidentified them. Last year alone, eyewitness misidentifications played a role in 12 out of 13 DNA-based exonerations in California.
Across the entire U.S., eyewitness misidentifications were involved in over 70 percent of convictions that were later overturned by DNA results.
Senate Bill 923 was introduced in January of 2018 by Senator Scott Wiener and Assemblymember Marc Levine. The bill adds Section 859.7 to California’s Penal Code.
About the Author
A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.