On one side, a Kansas City area rape victim voiced concerns that tougher standards would make it tougher to convict criminals.
On the other side, lawmakers heard from the father of a man who spent nearly a decade in prison after being charged with murder. However, the courts ultimately decided he did not recive a fair trial and vacated the sentence, freeing him from prison.
“Obviously the system cannot correct itself, it’s out of control.” said Bill Ferguson, father of Ryan Ferguson who had been convicted for the 2004 murder of the Columbia Tribune sports editor. “To me, this is a common sense bill.”The Senate bill would require law enforcement agencies to adopt written policies "to enhance the accuracy of identification...and minimize mistaken identifications." The measure includes a number of suggestions such as an impartial administrator to perform a live or photo lineup and a minimum number of persons in a photo or live lineup.
Kim Case, a rape survivor who said her eyewitness testimony helped convict her four perpetrators, said law enforcement agencies would be crippled by having to follow some of the mandates. She said tougher standards would only make it tougher to reach justice.
“I’ve spent 23 years of my life in my own prison,” Case said, representing the Missouri Victim Assistance Network. “But because of all these pieces here that work well I sit here as a survivor.”
Ryan Ferguson's father, however, urged lawmakers to support the tougher standards.
Ryan Ferguson was convicted of murder in 2004 after former friend Charles Erickson said he experienced “dream-like” memories of committing the crime. Ferguson was freed in November, after serving nearly a decade of his sentence.
In 2012, Erickson recanted his original testimony, as did the janitor who placed Ferguson at the scene of the crime.
Bill opponents, however, said the bill would have unintended consequences that would make the trial more about the technical process of the case and less of the case itself.
“To establish very rigid, codified, detailed standards of what must be done in every case will set up a system where by the litigation, the trial becomes a trial of the police officer and how faithful he was to those precise, rigid, codified procedures,” said Dunklin County Prosecuting Attorney Steve Sokoloff.
“The jury’s attention is diverted entirely from the real issue of the case and that is whether this defendant is guilty. It is, rather, whether the officer correctly applied the procedures.”
The bill's sponsor, Sen. Joe Keaveney, D- St. Louis, said the bill was drafted using recommendations from former prosecutors, city judges, a retired judge and law professors.
Part of the team is University of Missouri Law Professor Paul Litton. He said the U.S. had a record-breaking 87 exonerations in the past year.
“The main cause of wrongful conviction is wrongful eyewitness identification,” Litton said. “This happens not because of malice, but because our memories aren’t as good as we thought they were.”
As is customary when a bill is first heard by a committee, the Senate Judiciary Committee took no immediate action regarding the bill.