PDAA Best Practices Committee Announces Eyewitness Identification Integrity Guidelines

April 12, 2016

HARRISBURG – The Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association’s Best Practices Committee today announced guidelines to assist law enforcement in conducting neutral, fair, and reliable identification procedures. The recommendations are expected to serve as model procedures that can be used accordingly based on the individual needs of the state’s 67 counties and over 1,000 law enforcement agencies.

“Our Best Practices Committee was created to take a proactive, non-partisan approach to criminal justice issues that are impacted by the evolution of technology, science, and criminal behavior,” said PDAA President and Lebanon County District Attorney David J. Arnold, Jr. “These identification guidelines are the result of our collaborative effort and collective desire to ensure that at all times justice represents the truth and that citizens will have continued confidence in the criminal justice system.”

The guidelines announced today address witness identification of persons involved with a crime. The committee found that the two most common forms of identification, photo array and sequential, are both acceptable practices provided that administrators of the identification comply with other protocols.  These protocols include blind administration of the procedure, a neutral and non-suggestive presentation of the photographs, and the preservation of the line-ups.  Based on recent studies and real-world experience, the committee recommends simultaneous photo array as the preferred identification method.

“Accuracy is the committee’s most important measure in this process,” said Best Practices Committee Chair and Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan.  “This protocol allows law enforcement to identify suspects and rule out people who are not involved in crimes, both of which are important steps in the criminal justice process.  Our goal always is to convict the guilty, spare the innocent, and protect the rights of the victims.”

The Committee noted that the ultimate discretion for designating appropriate identification procedures remains vested with each District Attorney in their respective counties. In addition, any guidelines must rely on the judgment, experience, and discretion of trained law enforcement officers to react to the individualized needs of each investigation.  PDAA will be working with Pennsylvania agencies to incorporate its recommendations into law enforcement training at the state and local levels.

“Training is a critical component of conducting a fair and reliable identification procedure,” said State Police Commissioner Tyree Blocker.  “Working on this project is part of the State Police’s commitment to use the most up-to-date investigative methods to keep our citizens and communities safe. We look forward to working with the Association and our fellow law enforcement agencies to incorporate these procedures into our officer training.”

The Best Practices Committee collaborated and conferred with multiple parties in this process, including:  municipal police departments, the Pennsylvania State Police, the Chiefs of Police Association, criminal defense organizations, academic institutions, and best practices committees from other states.

The PDAA’s Best Practices Committee serves as a collaborative, non-partisan network to identify best practices, research and legal methods to assist in the proper and just evolution of the criminal justice system.   Created in late 2014, the committee formalized the Association’s long history of identifying and promoting reforms and efficiencies in order to protect the innocent, convict the guilty, and ensure justice for the victims of crime.

The Best Practices Committee will periodically release other proposed best practices addressing important issues.  Other issues currently being reviewed by the Committee are body-worn cameras, recorded interviews, and officer-involved shootings.