Clinic Alum. Watches Project Progress Through Massachusetts Legislature

06.29.10

In fall of 2008, Legislative Counsel Clinic student Aurora Smaldone (’09) worked on behalf of Senator Patricia Jehlen to develop a bill related to eyewitness identification practices.  The bill seeks to decrease misidentifications and wrongful convictions by promoting social-scientifically sound procedures for asking an eyewitness to identify a suspect from a photo array, show-up or line-up. 

The fruit of Aurora’s labors, Senate bill 1716: An Act Relative to Eye Witness Identification, would require every law enforcement agency to develop and adopt written policies based on established best practices for using an eyewitness to identify a suspect.  The legislation would also require the Executive Office of Public Safety to promulgate regulations ensuring all full-time municipal police officers be trained in eyewitness identification best practices. 

Senator Jehlen is lead sponsor of the bill in the current session.  The hearing on the bill was held on October 27th at the State House.  The next step is for the bill to be reported out of committee. 

“The biggest challenge of the project was to develop legislation that would serve Senator Jehlen’s purposes and enjoy political viability,” said Aurora.  To craft a bill backed by a diverse coalition of support, Aurora researched successful reform legislation in other states and spoke with key stakeholders in Massachusetts, including representatives from the Attorney General’s office, the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office, The Committee for Public Counsel Services and the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association.

BU Law Professor Stanley Fisher’s recent academic work provided the inspiration for, and backbone of the project.  Although many Massachusetts law enforcement agencies revised their eyewitness identification policies in response to recommendations set forth by a national task force established by Attorney General Janet Reno in the late-90s, Professor Fisher’s 2008 Massachusetts Law Review article, “Eyewitness Identification Reform in Massachusetts” exposed a clear need for more consistent, sound identification policies and increased police training. 

“Professor Fisher generously shared research, contacts and advice with me and offered feedback on multiple drafts of the bill,” said Aurora.  “Clinic Professor Sean Kealy also provided guidance throughout the semester.  I very much enjoyed my clinical experience and found the opportunity to work on a legislative project aimed at preventing wrongful convictions in Massachusetts meaningful and exciting.”

Aurora currently lives in Portland, Maine, and is pursuing a career as a legal advocate for low-income children and families.