Proposal would tighten police evidence-gathering regulations

Sen.Joseph Keaveny, D-St. Louis, is sponsoring legislation to put tighter restrictions on eyewitness testimony in criminal procedures.

A senate committee heard testimony on a bill supporters say might reduce wrongful convictions like Ryan Ferguson's.

The bill would require police to develop new procedures for collecting eyewitness testimony. Those procedures would need to include using a blinded administrator for lineups, informing eyewitnesses that the suspect may not be in the lineup and recording the entire lineup procedure electronically. It would allow defendants to file a motion to suppress eyewitness testimony if there is enough evidence that eyewitness testimony may have led to mistaken identification.

In addition to new regulations on eyewitness testimony, the bill would require all police interrogations to be recorded. Those recordings would have to be preserved until the offender could no longer appeal a conviction. Finally, law enforcement agencies would have to retain any biological evidence collected in investigations of violent crimes until the offender has been released from prison. In first-degree murder cases, the evidence could only be destroyed after the offender is executed or found innocent.

On Monday night, Ryan Ferguson's father, Bill, called the proposal "common sense legislation." He told KRCG 13, "a vote against this bill is a vote against common sense."

Joshua Kezer, who spent 16 years behind bars after being wrongfully convicted of murder, told the committee he went to prison because eyewitnesses wrongfully identified him. He said he was convinced he would never have been even arrested if the bill's provisions had been in place.

Stephen Sokoloff, a prosecuting attorney, disagreed. He said most of the 87 exonerations that happened last year resulted from technicalities and the people involved never truly proved their innocence. He repeatedly warned of putting rigid guidelines in place when investigation procedures are changing continually. Sokoloff said constant questioning of how police handled the interrogation and eyewitness review processes would turn trials of suspects into trials of police officers.