Criminal Defense Bar Secures Sweeping Reversal in Illinois Eyewitness Identification Litigation Concerning Flawed Lineups Linked to More than 50 Wrongful Convictions
Washington, DC (March 3, 2010) – The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) has been fighting in the Illinois courts since Feb. 2007 to secure access to data and other materials related to the Chicago Police Department’s controversial, taxpayer-funded report on lineups and eyewitness procedures. The report sets forth highly controversial, and widely criticized conclusions that current eyewitness procedures—those that use traditional line ups where all suspects stand in a room together—are more effective than new procedures used in other American cities to reduce errors that can lead to wrongful convictions. Although academic research has consistently found that sequential, double-blind identification procedures substantially reduce false identifications, the report claimed that in “real life” lineups, the traditional method was more reliable. The Chicago, Evanston and Joliet police departments participated in the study with the Illinois State Police.
NACDL efforts to secure the underlying data from the taxpayer-funded report have faced years of roadblocks erected by three of the police departments involved—Chicago, Joliet, and the Illinois State Police. Evanston is the only municipality to agree to turn over their data. The denial of NACDL’s informal and formal FOIA requests had left no alternative but litigation. Last week, in a consolidated appeal, the Appellate Court of Illinois, First Judicial District issued a sweeping reversal of lower court decisions limiting NACDL access to the data underlying this controversial report.
As maintained throughout by NACDL, the court ultimately found that there is a “vital public interest in the disclosure of these documents.” The court found that the police departments failed to discharge their burden to show that the law enforcement exemptions shield any of the police documents from disclosure (after appropriate redaction). And the police departments’ wholesale assertions of undue burden were categorically rejected. The court’s remand does afford the opportunity for redaction or withholding of certain documents, with the police departments bearing the burden to demonstrate why any specific document or information would compromise law enforcement or privacy, in which case the data would be presented to the court for an in camera review. But the court was clear that they must produce the actual lineup photos and photo arrays photos; the privacy exemption does not apply to those.
Northwestern Law School’s MacArthur Justice Center, a Chicago-based public interest law firm, filed the suit on behalf of NACDL. “Wrongful convictions happen too frequently to ignore, and many of them are the direct result of erroneous eyewitness identification,” said Locke Bowman, legal director of the MacArthur Justice Center and attorney for NACDL. “The fact that the Chicago and Illinois Police Departments are not curious as to why their research goes against so many other legal experts’ scientific research and professional opinions remains deeply disconcerting. Our client, NACDL, has a right to see the data behind a taxpayer-funded study, and we’ve been asking the courts for some time to direct these police departments to turn the information over immediately. Last week’s appellate decision directing disclosure to NACDL of this data is a tremendous victory for fairness and justice.”
For more information and documents about NACDL’s Illinois Eyewitness Identification Litigation, including a copy of the February 25, 2010, Appellate Court reversal, please click here.