Sunday, April 17, 2011

SC Cops to implement better practices for identification and interrogation?

Columbia attorney, Joe McCulloch, founder of the Palmetto Innocence Project, along with the national Innocence Project and SLED, put on an outstanding seminar Friday in Columbia geared towards introducing local law enforcement to the best practices for identification and interrogation in the criminal justice field.

The seminar featured retired Charlotte, NC Police Chief Darrel Stephens; retired Burlington, NC Police Chief Mike Gauldin; former 5th Circuit Solicitor Barney Giese; Dr. Jennifer Dysart, associate professor of psychology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice (City University of New York); Dr. Saul Kassin, Distinguished Professor of Psychology, John Jay College of Criminal Justice); Ken Hammond, Director of the Wisconsin Department of Justice's Training & Standards Bureau; and attorney Andrew W. Vail, with Jenner & Block of Chicago. These speakers were joined by SLED Director Reggie Lloyd, SC AG Alan Wilson, US Atty for Northern Georgia Sally Yates and US Atty for SC Bill Nettles for a panel discussion at the end of the program.

The purpose of the seminar, was to provide local law enforcement with testimony from the "converted" so to speak; former cops speaking about their experiences with implementing best practices in identification and interrogation (such as utilizing the sequential photo array & video recording full interrogations). To that end, no speaker was more moving that Ret. Burlington, NC Chief of Police, Mike Gauldin. Gauldin was the lead investigator on the Ronald Cotton case. Cotton was wrongfully convicted not once, but TWICE for the rape of Jennifer Thompson. Cotton spent 11 years in prison before DNA exonerated him. 16 years later...Chief Gauldin still gets choked up talking about his role in sending an innocent man to prison.

"I was one of those people who tried to do what was right,” Gauldin told the audience. I thought I had."

"I don’t know where you are in South Carolina on wrongful convictions, but I’ve got news for you if you’re an investigator or a prosecutor: It could happen to you. I’ve got worse news: It may already have happened."
60 Minutes piece on the Cotton case can be seen below. Watch it...truly moving stuff.

According to The Innocence Project, 179 of the first 239 DNA exonerations were cases in which eyewitness misidentification was the central cause. That means that approximately seventy-five percent (75%) of wrongful convictions involve mistaken eyewitness identification.

In fifty-percent (50%) of those 179 cases, eyewitness misidentification was the sole cause for conviction. That means that eyewitness misidentification is the sole cause for approximately ninety percent (90%) of the DNA exonerated wrongful convictions.
Hopefully, Friday's seminar marks a sea change event in the evolution of these practices here in South Carolina. SLED Director Reggie Lloyd (who helped organize the seminar) came out in favor of videotaping interrogations:

"Most of these folks are used to television drama," State Law Enforcement Division Chief Reggie Lloyd said, adding that many jurors experience the "CSI effect" of having seen interrogations on TV shows. "To let them actually see it appeared to have no effect on them whatsoever."

Lloyd also committed to sitting down with McCulloch in the coming weeks and coming up with a policy, which will be memorialized via MOU, on how SLED will assist the Palmetto Innocence Project with potential wrongful conviction cases. Local media coverage of the event is available here, here and here.

It really was a great seminar. We got the chance to talk to Chief Gauldin for about 10 minutes after his presentation. The Chief just immediately strikes you as an incredibly good guy and to sit there some 16 years after the Cotton case shook out the way it did and see him still profoundly affected by it, moves you. We hope the law enforcement officers who saw the same thing Friday take that experience Chief Gauldin shared and try to implement changes to make sure the same thing does not happen to them.

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