Darrell Williams case highlights need for Illinois reform

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Is it time to give Illinois better rules governing how police use photos to help victims identify crime suspects?

The importance of photo identifications has been underscored by the case of an Oklahoma State basketball player, Darrell Williams, who was convicted last month of sexual battery and two counts of rape by instrumentation. Supporters say he is a victim of misidentification. The judge has delayed sentencing so he can consider a defense motion claiming new evidence had been found.

In this case, police showed the victims a photo of the basketball team to see if the victims could identify the suspect. That’s not a recommended procedure (although the procedure wasn’t as significant as in some cases because one of the women the police interviewed already knew Williams’ identity from seeing him play basketball).

A new push in the Illinois Legislature is being considered to require “double-blind” lineups of suspects and sequential photo lineups.

When double-blind lineups are used, neither the witness nor the police conducting the lineup are told who the suspect is, which guards against deliberately or unconsciously tipping the results one way or the other.

With sequential photo lineups, victims are shown photos of suspects one at a time instead of being presented with an array all at once. Research has shown the sequential process cuts down on misidentification.

Eyewitness misidentification is the single greatest cause of wrongful convictions nationwide, according to the Innocence Project, which works to free innocent people who have been sent to prison.

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