Criminal Justice

Baltimore Police Take Steps to Avoid Wrongful Convictions


Credit: Baltimore Police Department

Three cheers for the Baltimore Police Department, which announced that it will henceforth present sequential double-blind photo lineups to witnesses during investigations. The practice guards against false identification.

According to the Innocence Project, "witness misidentification is the single greatest cause of wrongful conviction nationwide." False identification played a role in 73 percent of the 311 cases where DNA evidence ultimately led to an exoneration.

Criminologists and psychologists have long advocated sequential double-blind lineups—where neither the witnesses nor the investigators showing them the photos know if a suspect is included—because police can unintentionally influence witnesses. "Detectives are emotionally involved in the case as well as the victims," Baltimore Deputy Commissioner John Skinner tells CBS Baltimore.

Moreover, instead of presenting multiple photos at once, police will present mug shots sequentially. Presenting images simultaneously can also lead to misidentification.

In addition to devastating the lives of the wrongly convicted, false identification can mean real criminals go free. So kudos to Baltimore police and prosecutors for admitting past mistakes and taking steps to ensure they won't happen again.

Baltimore joins just a handful of cities across the country that conduct sequential double-blind lineups. Even though there is overwhelming evidence that the practice reduces error, police associations and district attorneys often oppose attempts to adopt double-blind lineups. In California, for instance, former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed lineup reforms after law enforcement agencies objected.  

According to the Innocence Project, Dallas, Minneapolis, Boston, Philadelphia, San Diego, San Francisco, Tucson, and Denver conduct double-blind lineups—as do police in New Jersey, North Carolina, and Connecticut.

Baltimore police have also begun to record interrogations, starting with cases involving serious crimes. See this Reason Foundation paper by Roger Koppl for more reforms that would improve the criminal justice system.

NEXT: Katherine Mangu-Ward: Kids Should Hack Their School-Provided iPads

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  1. Even though there is overwhelming evidence that the practice reduces error, police associations and district attorneys often oppose attempts to adopt double-blind lineups.

    Listen, police work isn’t about using deductive reasoning and forensics to find the truth of what happened; it’s about catching the “bad guy”. We all “know” who the “bad guys” are. We don’t need any of this double-blind bullshit, we have our “gut”. You want these double-blind lineups to let terrorists go and kill children? Well, do you?!?

    1. Sometimes witnesses need a little help. Why does Reason live criminals?

    2. I get why DAs would oppose it. But why police associations? It only makes their evidence against suspects stronger when they have the right person.

      1. Because there’s little downside to seeing an innocent man swing, but tremendous incentive to string somebody up.

  2. Baltimore Police Take Steps to Avoid Wrongful Convictions

    I thought for sure those steps were going to be to shoot first and don’t ask questions later. You know, this being Charm City and all. Sounds like Bunny Colvin somehow moved up the ranks.

  3. I am disappoint.

    Just kidding – wouldn’t want to be accused by anyone of not recognizing when the Bad Guys do something good.

    /old thread

    1. I think that this is happening in Baltimore is significant. The Baltimore Police are more alienated from the population than any other city other than maybe LA. Baltimore is where the “don’t be a snitch” thing started. I think they are realizing they have to stop abusing people and convicting the wrong people if they are to have any hope of any cooperation from the public. I know it sounds nice and all to view the public as the enemy. And that is great until the public totally stops cooperating with you. And that is what has happened to a large degree in Baltimore.

      1. Yeah, I agree. Baltimore is one of the last places I would expect to see this kind of reform happening, so this is a pretty big deal.

  4. Thomas Sowell on Jay Carney

    Despite political differences, it is hard not to feel sorry for White House press secretary Jay Carney for all the absurdities his job requires him to say with a straight face. What is he going to do when this administration is over? Wear a disguise, change his name, or be put into a witness-protection program?…..mas-sowell

    I disagree with Sowell in that I don’t feel sorry for Carney at all. He is a arrogant little crap weasel who will hopefully get exactly what he deserves post Obama. But I think he sums up Carney’s fate perfectly.

    1. Maybe the reason for the New York Yankees’ low batting averages has something to do with the fact that so many of their batters seem to be swinging for the fences, even when a single would score the winning run.

      OH SNAP!

    2. It has long been my belief that the sight of a good-looking woman lowers a man’s IQ by at least 20 points. A man who doesn’t happen to have 20 points to spare can be in big trouble.

      Line like this are why I love reading Sowell.

  5. OT: Apparently nobody liked their current health insurance!

    The U.S. individual health insurance market currently totals about 19 million people. Because the Obama administration’s regulations on grandfathering existing plans were so stringent as many as 16 million are not grandfathered and must comply with Obamacare at their next renewal. The rules are very complex. For example, if you had an individual plan in March of 2010 when the law was passed and you only increased the deductible from $1,000 to $1,500 in the years since, your plan has lost its grandfather status and it will no longer be available to you when it would have renewed in 2014.

    Millions of people are now receiving letters from their carriers saying they are losing their current coverage and must re-enroll in order to avoid a break in coverage and comply with the new health law’s benefit mandates??the vast majority by January 1. Most of these will be seeing some pretty big rate increases.


    1. I said the other day. When you realize that Obamacare was based on two lies the Progs have been telling for 70 years (that everyone who didn’t have insurance wanted it and that everyone who did hated their coverage) you then can understand why they came up with such an insane bill.

      1. This thing is growing wings and will soon resemble a certain seabird hung around the necks of those responsible.

  6. The Fed has finally noticed that its policies are distorting markets, so they’ve decided to end those policies… HAHAHAHAHA yeah right!

    The Federal Reserve is getting more involved in debt markets as it tries to compensate for the impact of its almost $4 trillion balance sheet on short-term interest rates.

    Policy makers are testing a new tool intended to improve their control of near-term borrowing costs. The facility would allow banks, broker-dealers, money-market funds and some government-sponsored enterprises to lend the Fed unlimited amounts of cash overnight at a fixed rate in exchange for borrowing Treasuries in so-called reverse repo transactions.


    While the Fed gained the ability in 2008 to pay interest on cash it holds in the form of excess bank reserves, that tool has limited effect in anchoring borrowing costs because only banks could park their funds at the central bank, Crandall said. By now offering to pay a fixed rate to a wider range of counterparties for their cash overnight, policy makers should be able to improve their control of near-term rates, he said.

    You know what the financial sector needs? Even more welfare!

    1. And they can totally control and plan interest rates forever. They are top men. So the underlying dynamics of the market will never assert themselves. Never.

    2. Are they just backdoor socializing the economy? WTF?

  7. Now I am getting a male gay dating site ad. What the hell happened to the Snorg Tees girls?

    1. The ads are personalized and based upon your google search history.

      1. Maybe the big google in the sky knows more about me than even I do. Now I am getting a truck driver school. Google apparently thinks I am a gay truck driver or a driver want to be.

        1. You should be perpin’ adblocker anyways. Makes stuff load faster and you don’t get annoying self-playing video ads.

    2. Their pimps failed to pay Reason.

  8. Tipping point?

    Census Bureau: Means-Tested Gov’t Benefit Recipients Outnumber Full-Time Year-Round Workers

    Americans who were recipients of means-tested government benefits in 2011 outnumbered year-round full-time workers, according to data released this month by the Census Bureau.
    They also out-numbered the total population of the Philippines.

    There were 108,592,000 people in the United States in the fourth quarter of 2011 who were recipients of one or more means-tested government benefit programs, the Census Bureau said in data released this week. Meanwhile, according to the Census Bureau, there were 101,716,000 people who worked full-time year round in 2011. That included both private-sector and government workers.

    That means there were about 1.07 people getting some form of means-tested government benefit for every 1 person working full-time year round.

    This is just means tested welfare, so it does not include SS or Medicare.

    And as one of the comments pointed out, almost 1 in 5 of the people who do work full time work for government at some level.

    1. No. But close. The full time workers still vote more than the welfare recipients. Probably closer to a fiscal tipping point than a political one. Who is going to pay for all of this?

  9. Peggy Noonan has a sad that Obama is actually the incompetent buffoon all of the nihilist conservatives and libertarians have been saying he is.

    nd there is the enduring mystery of why the president, who in his career has attempted to persuade the American people to have greater faith in and reliance on the federal government’s ability to help, continues to go forward with an astounding lack of interest in the reputation of government.

    He talks but he doesn’t implement, never makes it work. He allows the IRS under his watch to be humiliated by scandal, waste, ill judgements prompted by ideological assumptions. He allows his signature program, the one that will make his name in the history books, to debut in failure. In response he says bland, rounded words that leave you wondering what just got said.

    We’re all reading of Jack Kennedy. He stayed up nights with self-recrimination after failure. “How could I have been so stupid?” he asked about the Bay of Pigs. A foreseeable mistake and he’d blown it, listened to the wrong people, made the wrong judgments. That man suffered over his missteps. He worried about his reputation, and the reputation of his government, and of America.

    It is disorienting to not see this in a president. It is another thing about this story that feels not only historic, but historically strange.

    1. You left out the best part:

      So you’d think it would sort of work. And it didn’t. Which is a disaster. . . . It was Bill Daley ? accomplished political player, former commerce secretary and, most killingly, former chief of staff of President Obama ? who Thursday, on “CBS This Morning,” admitted the scale of the problem. Asked whether Kathleen Sebelius should be fired, he said: “To me that’s kind of like firing Captain Smith on the Titanic after it hit the iceberg.”

      The Titanic. Some will see his comments as disloyal. Actually they were candid and realistic. Although in fairness, the Titanic at least had three good days, and Edward Smith chose to go down with the ship.


      1. What is funny is that GOP establishment hacks like Noonan and the Progs honestly believe government can work and do these big things, like every problem is like fighting World War II. And they are equally convinced that Obama is brilliant. So they have to admit one of those things is not true. And it is killing them.

  10. the enduring mystery of why the president, who in his career has attempted to persuade the American people to have greater faith in and reliance on the federal government’s ability to help, continues to go forward with an astounding lack of interest in the reputation of government.

    Narcissism is it own reward.

    1. So does living in a fantasy world. What is most striking about the media/academic left, of which Obama is a shining example, is how little they understand about how government actually works. They live in this fantasy world where bureaucracies implement dictates from the top.

  11. What is most striking about the media/academic left, of which Obama is a shining example, is how little they understand about how government actually works.

    These are the people who think Public Choice Theory was a remarkable conceptual breakthrough. The ones who actually accept it as valid, anyway.

  12. You can’t wrongfully convict someone if you shoot them to death first.

  13. Comeon man, lets roll that beautiful bean footage.

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