- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 2, 2014

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - Most police departments in West Virginia have not responded to a survey regarding their witness identification procedures.

Only 22 percent of the state’s 277 police departments responded to the survey, which asked the agencies whether they have complied with a 2013 law that required them to adopt written policies for witness identification procedures by Jan. 1, 2014, The Charleston Gazette reported (https://bit.ly/1vHFJkg ).

There have been six cases in West Virginia in which DNA evidence showed a person was wrongfully convicted. Five involved inaccurate witness identification.

The Law Enforcement Professional Standards Program, which is part of the Division of Justice and Community Services, and the Innocence Project sent the survey in January. A follow-up survey was sent in June after only 15 police departments responded.

Police agencies that responded and indicated they have written policies include sheriff’s departments in Kanawha, Berkeley, Fayette, Mercer, Preston and Putnam counties, and police departments in Charleston, Dunbar, Huntington, Montgomery, Morgantown and Wheeling. The West Virginia University police department also indicated that it has a written policy.

The law does not mandate what witness identification policies should include. But it does encourage police departments to adopt best practices.

Recommended best practices include instructing witnesses that a suspect may or may not be present in a lineup. The law also recommends that the police officer working with a victim during a lineup identification does not know the identity of an alleged perpetrator.

The West Virginia State Police has a written policy based on best practices outlined in the law. The agency was following a majority of the recommendations before the law was enacted, Capt. Reginald Patterson said.

“The State Police believes that utilizing the best practices for conducting eyewitness identifications would serve and protect the innocent, the community, the agency and the state to the best of our ability,” Patterson told the newspaper.

The Innocence Project has been working on enacting witness identification legislation in West Virginia since 2007.

“We always say we just want to see adoption of best practices,” Innocence Project representative Rebecca Brown told the newspaper. “However, at a certain point if it becomes clear the volunteer adoption mechanism simply is not working, there could be a role for the Legislature.”


Information from: The Charleston Gazette, https://www.wvgazette.com

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