Commentary: Witness ID - Black and White Issue

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(Sacramento, CA)
Friday, August 31, 2007

Eric Allen Warren, a 20 year old college student who had never been in trouble with the law, spent 53 days in jail for crimes he insists he didn’t commit. Sacramento prosecutors who charged Warren with a string of violent burglaries and sexual assaults, now doubt his guilt as well. They have dropped all charges and he’s been released.

The accounts from eye-witnesses who picked Warren out of a line up turned out to be less solid than originally thought – not unusual in criminal cases.

When witness identifications cross racial lines – that is the witness is one race and the accused another – mistakes are especially common. Eric Warren is black. The witnesses against him were white and Asian.

Warren is out of jail, but life is not the same. When he applies for a job and the application asks “have you ever been arrested for a crime?” how does he answer? For a young African American male, especially, a “yes” can be devastating.

Warren could petition the court to have his arrest record officially expunged, but that costs money.

If a mistake was made, it seems to me, Eric Warren is owed an apology – and one thing more. He can’t get back the 53 days he spent in jail, but his arrest record should be expunged and he should not have to pay for it.


Ginger Rutland writes for The Sacramento Bee opinion pages.