Witness ID bill weakened in House Judiciary Committee in Tallahassee

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The "Crotzer" mentioned in that section is Alan Crotzer, the former St. Pete resident who dramatically was released from prison back in January of 2006 after serving 24 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.  Crotzer spoke out yesterday to legislators, scolding them for weakening the bill, saying,

“This is very personal to me. I spent more than half of my life wrongly convicted,” Crotzer said.

Turning away from the microphone at the House Judiciary Committee, he glared at the uniformed law-enforcement officers and lobbyists representing police chiefs and sheriffs, who lobbied to remove some of the requirements in the legislation, HB 821

“You need some rules and regulations. You got it wrong. You’ve been getting it wrong for a long time,” Crotzer said.

Meanwhile, tonight in Sarasota, Juan Melendez, who spent almost 18 years on Florida's Death Row until he was exonerated and freed in 2002, will speak at a forum at New College of Florida.  Melendez now lives in New Mexico and travels around the world speaking about his experience in Florida

James Bain, who spent 35 years in prison for another man's crime, defense attorney Adam Tebrugge, investigator Jeff Walsh, and Melendez' final investigator Rosa Greenbaum will join him in a panel discussion following Juan's presentation.  That event begins at 7 p.m.

On Thursday, Cl will publish an article by reporter Lisa Marzilli on the goals of the Florida Innocence Commission to try to get a bill passed this spring in the Legislature that would reform eyewitness identification. The bill calls for law enforcement agencies to use neutral officers to administer lineups or photo lineups so that potential witnesses aren't subtly led or pressured to identify the wrong suspect.

The fact that witnesses can make the wrong call and have the wrong person incarcerated  was found to be a factor  just last week, when Manatee County native Derrick Williams was released from a Florida prison after serving 18 years in the slammer for a crime that he says he did not commit. He is one of 13 men to be freed from prison in Florida because of DNA evidence.

However, a significant part of that legislation took a blow yesterday when the 'independent administrator' who would oversee the police lineups was dropped, as reported by Marc Caputo from the St. Pete Times/Miami Herald's Tallahassee bureau:

But law enforcement officials — a far more powerful lobby in Tallahassee than Crotzer and justice-reform groups — successfully argued against parts of the bill, specifically a provision that would call for an "independent administrator" to oversee lineups. If an independent administrator weren't used, the original bill called on a state commission to craft a "carefully structured" process to ensure neutrality.

The law enforcement lobby, though, said the Legislature shouldn't tell police how to do their jobs. It successfully pushed for replacement legislation that would require each law enforcement agency to establish its own standards.

Jim Coats, the Pinellas County sheriff and head of the Florida Sheriff's Association, said the standards would still focus "on neutrality and impartiality in the lineup process."

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