States Seek To Tighten Rules On Eyewitness Identifications

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Herman May spent more than 13 years in
prison after a woman identified him as her attacker in a sexual
assault.

The identification in 1988 came even though the 17-year-old May
had bright reddish-orange hair and looked little like the tall,
thin, dark-haired man in his mid-20s identified as the attacker.
May was convicted of rape in 1989 and sentenced to 40 years in
prison - until DNA evidence showed in 2002 that he didn't commit
the crime.

Cases like May's prompted proposed legislation that would have
Kentucky join a growing number of states and cities across the
country in standardizing how eyewitness identification is handled,
with the goal of eliminating mistaken eyewitness identifications.

Eight states, including Maryland, North Carolina, West Virginia
and Vermont, passed legislation last year reforming eyewitness
identification procedures. In 2006 and 2007, 32 bills dealing with
the issue were introduced in 17 states. Kentucky was one of six
states considering proposals this year, according to the National
Conference of State Legislatures.

Defense lawyers and legal groups across the country are pushing
more states to adopt regulations for eyewitness identifications.

About 75 percent of the 215 people freed from prison based on
DNA evidence, including May, were convicted on eyewitness
identifications, said Gary Wells, an Iowa State University
professor who has studied the issue for three decades.


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