updated: July 14, 2006
Robert KC Johnson surveyed North Carolina DA's and police departments regarding lineup procedures in their jurisdictions.
He finds that North Carolina really isn't a 3rd world country where law enforcement needs no "stinkin rules" or makes them up as they go along in order to railroad the innocent in rigged lineups. In fact, most of the state normally follows the lineup guidelines laid down by either the Actual Innocence Commission (AIC) or the Criminal Justice Commission (CJ).
It turns out that DA Mike Nifong and the Durham police department are so far from normal North Carolina lineup procedures as to be on another planet. Mr. Johnson concludes:
For the lacrosse case: The manner in which Nifong orchestrated the photo ID deviates wildly from common North Carolina practice, in at least four ways:
The lacrosse session also departed from the statewide norm (although here no unanimity exists) in having someone intimately involved with the investigation oversee the photo ID session.
- The basic debate in the state seems to revolve around following the AIC or CJ guidelines, or developing a hybrid (D.A. David). As far as I could determine, in no North Carolina jurisdiction is it the policy to confine eyewitness ID sessions to suspects in the case.
- Every police department that communicated with me has a standard policy—either formal or informal—of telling witnesses that the photo array might or might not include the suspect. As far as I could determine, in no North Carolina jurisdiction is it the practice, as was followed in this case, for the witness to be informed that the photo array would consist only of possible suspects.
- As far as I could determine, no North Carolina jurisdiction possesses a third identification procedure, one that can be used, to quote Gottlieb’s description of Nifong’s words, "instead of doing a line up or a photographic array."
- Some district attorneys who communicated with me seemed to like the AIC guidelines; others weren’t particularly enthusiastic about them; others (like David) developed their own systems. But of those who said that they made recommendations to local law enforcement, all did so in favor of departments using fillers in photo ID sessions, not the reverse. And a district attorney setting policy for an eyewitness ID session seems to be unusual in and of itself.
update July 14th:
Betsy Newmark says:
Historian Robert K. C. Johnson has done a great bit of research to answer a question that I've been wondering about. We know that there have been a lot of questions about the procedure used in the lineup that led the woman in the Duke lacrosse story to identify three of the players....
Kudos to K.C. Johnson on doing this sort of research. This is exactly the type of context that the media should be doing, but for some reason they aren't. It takes a historian/blogger to show them how to do their job. At my local paper, dozens of people have been posting on the public editor's blog lots of suggestions for questions that journalists at the News and Observer could follow up on to get more in depth coverage of the story. You can see more questions over at the Court TV message board. Here are so many questions, many of them just what everyone is wondering about this case and some which are based on information that even those of us following the case pretty carefully are unaware of.
[hat tip to John in Carolina]
North Carolina Norms [Robert KC Johnson | hnn.us, July 13, 2006]
Duke Case: The Faulty Lineup [TJN]
Duke Lacrosse [TJN Archive]