Since the late 1990s, DNA evidence has cleared hundreds of people mistakenly put behind bars. In doing so, it's tarnished that staple of crime solving: the police lineup. Almost 80 percent of the wrongly accused were first fingered by an alleged eyewitness (who zeroed in on them in a traditional photo, or in-person, "six-pack"). For years the push to improve the system has stalled, with just nine states enforcing tightened procedures. These include requiring police to show pictures or suspects one at a time, and having an officer without knowledge of the case administer the lineup—processes that psychologists say are more reliable. Meanwhile, at least 17 other states and some major cities have resisted these changes, partly because a 2006 Chicago Police Department study found the new system to be worse than the old one, and partly because the Supreme Court has upheld entrenched lineup methodology.
But reform could soon come from the unlikeliest of places: Texas. This fall a special panel that's spending the year studying the factors involved in wrongful convictions will issue recommendations. Given the state's history—it holds a dubious national record with 38 DNA-exonerated inmates—attorneys general across the nation will be taking note. "There's no question we're a trendsetter," says state Sen. Rodney Ellis. "If we can pass something in Texas, it becomes a lot easier for other states."