CBS 6 INVESTIGATES: Are police breaking the rules? Va. law professor says ‘yes’

Posted at 7:26 PM, Aug 26, 2013
and last updated 2013-08-27 00:25:52-04

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WTVR) - When you think of police, you might think of men and women who follow the rules. But according to one University of Virginia law professor, most police departments in Virginia are breaking them.

"I find the results really depressing," Dr. Brandon Garrett, a law professor who specializes in wrongful convictions, told CBS 6 reporter Joe St. George.

Dr. Garrett said 90 percent of police divisions in Virginia are not following state recommendations when it comes to questioning eyewitnesses. His findings come after months of studying information collected from departments via the Freedom of Information Act.

Garrett said when police show mugshots or lineups to an eyewitness, the officer in charge is not permitted to know which person is the true suspect.

"There is just a powerful effect of someone who runs the test who knows what the answer is," Garrett added.

He said more than two years ago, police agencies were supposed to implement the Crime Commission recommendations involving blind tests.

"You may think you're not the next department to wrongly convict someone and that it happens rarely. I think it happens more than you think," Garrett said. "Of the 16 people that have been exonerated in Virginia by DNA - 13 of the 16 had eyewitnesses."

Because of Garrett's report - and past credibility - the Virginia State Crime Commission is weighing in.

"It is absolutely a concern," State Delegate Manoli Loupassi (R - Richmond), who sits on the crime commission, said.

Loupassi said he has instructed the Virginia Crime Commission to investigate Garrett's study to understand what rules are not being followed and why.

But Loupassi cautioned that the data may not be entirely accurate since Garrett said he was unable to survey EVERY police department in Virginia.

Loupassi also said that for some small police departments it may be impossible to find an officer who does not know who the suspect is when interviewing eyewitnesses.

"In a department with three people, they all know the guy. There is no way for them to do a double blind," Loupassi said.

Garrett did not reveal the individual results of the departments surveyed - saying he promised confidentiality.

CBS 6 contacted the three largest police departments in the metro-Richmond area. Richmond, Chesterfield, and Henrico police all said they are in complete compliance with state regulations.

CBS 6 is waiting to hear back from several of the smaller departments in Central Virginia.