Senator Raoul receives Defender of the Innocent Award

Illinois Innocence Project honors senator for his work on eyewitness ID reform

SPRINGFIELD, IL — Illinois State Senator Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago 13th) was honored Wednesday night at the Illinois Innocence Project’s eighth annual Defenders of the Innocent event. He received the Defender of the Innocent Award for his sponsorship of legislation that reformed eyewitness identification and lineups last year.

In accepting the award, Raoul told Innocence Project supporters that when he was 17, he was stopped and handcuffed while hanging out with a friend one block from his home, at 49th and Woodlawn in Hyde Park.

“We were brought in handcuffs to the scene of a mugging, and two victims indicated we looked like the guys who mugged them,” Raoul said. “After a minute, one victim remembered that the perpetrators had been wearing different coats. I realized later how completely my life would have changed if they had stood by their initial instincts.”

Last year’s House Bill 802 requires law enforcement agencies to — whenever practical — use one of several methods to conduct a lineup in an impartial manner, give witnesses instructions designed to reduce the frequency of mistaken identifications, protect the identity of eyewitnesses and any police officers used in the lineup, video record the procedure and keep records of how the lineup was conducted. The law establishes detailed standards for various kinds of lineups in an attempt to prevent witnesses from being pressured to identify the suspect or make an identification when they are unsure they recognize the perpetrator. Previously, state law required only that lineups be photographed and that suspects not look substantially different from the other individuals (“fillers”) in the lineup.

Raoul, a champion of criminal justice reform who now sits on the governor’s Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform, sponsored the legislation that abolished the death penalty in Illinois in 2011 after learning about exonerations and the significant risk of applying capital punishment to individuals wrongly convicted due to false confessions, unreliable eyewitness identifications, incorrectly handled evidence, poor representation and many other reasons. He has also secured passage of laws that expand DNA testing and the video recording of police interrogations.

“I applaud the important work of the Illinois Innocence Project, which gives exonerees their lives back but also exposes shocking flaws in our criminal justice system,” Raoul said. “I truly believe that we have arrived at a pivotal place: a confluence of bipartisan support for reforms that improve public safety, reduce costs, rehabilitate offenders, respect human rights, address race and income disparities and, of course, incarcerate fewer innocent men and women.”

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