House committee moves eyewitness identification reform act forward

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) — A Kentucky House committee has passed a bill aimed to cut down on wrongful convictions by making police procedures across the state more uniform when it comes to witness identification.

Supporters of the Eyewitness Identification Reform Act say they’re trying to find the best way to protect against misidentification, the leading cause in wrongful convictions.

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Some people like Mike VonAllmen know all about wrongful convictions. According to the state’s Deparment of Public Advocacy, he served 11 years in prison and was on parole for 16 years before he was finally exonerated in 2010.

That’s a story Jennifer Thompson knows all too well after a rapist broke into her apartment in 1984. She spoke on behalf of the bill Wednesday after she misidentified her rapist, which caused him to spend 11 years behind bars before a DNA test proved it was not him.

Thompson says the human memory is not designed to remember trauma and that sometimes questions from authorities can lead a witness. “Someone says to you inadvertently, innocently…. Are you sure his eyes were brown? Could they have been hazel? And all of a sudden you’re introducing false memory into my head,” says Thompson.

House bill 387 calls for uniform procedures for all law enforcement in the state for witness identification. That includes lineups and giving witnesses instruction before the process. It would also allow for the suppression of evidence in criminal cases when witness guidelines had been violated.

The bill will be heard by the whole House next.