August 20, 2007

Forensnips I: So much news, so little time

Much is happening in the news, but I'm too busy to go into depth at the moment. So I’m posting highlights, with links to more in-depth coverage for those of you who are interested. I hope to write a few longer posts on special topics over the coming weeks.

Two topics currently in the spotlight both pertain to commonplace police methods for obtaining arrests and convictions – the use of eyewitnesses and informants.

California considering eyewitness identification reform

At this weekend's American Psychological Association, psychologist Gary Wells received an award for his groundbreaking and influential studies of flawed eyewitness identification procedures.

California's state legislature is tackling the issue head-on. Senate Bill 756, now heading for the Assembly floor for a final vote, would enact statewide eyewitness identification procedures. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a similar bill last year, so we'll see what he does this time around.

The California legislature is also leading the way toward other reforms to help reduce wrongful convictions:

  • Senate Bill 511 would require full electronic recording of interrogations in both juvenile and adult cases.
  • Senate Bill 609 would require corroboration of information provided by jailhouse informants.
More research reports and news on this topic is online at:

The Justice Project

Seeing the Forest

Use of informants under scrutiny

Recent Congressional hearings put a spotlight on the widespread, secretive, and largely unregulated police practice of relying on confidential informants to put suspected criminals behind bars. Sparking public awareness and controversy over the longstanding practice were two recent cases: the fatal police shooting of a 92-year-old Atlanta woman in Alabama and a $102 million judgment against the FBI for knowingly using informants to illegally convict four men who then spent decades in prison.

An excellent column by law professor Alexandra Natapoff, author of a forthcoming book about informants, from the Aug. 16 San Francisco Chronicle is available online. Ms. Natapoff's testimony before a U.S. House Judiciary Committee is also available online.

Other coverage of the issue is at:

The blog of journalist Radley Balko

Texan Scott Henson's Grits for Breakfast blog

Drug War Chronicle

... Stay tuned - more news highlights to come.