“The largest reason for false imprisonment is mis-identification”
This long-held sentiment has driven courts, police departments and state agencies across the country to look for more reliable ways for eyewitnesses to identify possible suspects in criminal cases.
Witnesses play a very important role in the administration of justice in this country. Their testimony is often the key to identifying, charging, and convicting suspected criminals.
In some cases, eyewitness evidence may be the only evidence available. Yet, eyewitness evidence is not always accurate. Even the most well-intentioned and honest witnesses can identify the wrong person or fail to identify the actual criminal.
A false identification can turn an innocent person’s life into a nightmare. A failed identification can offer a criminal free pass. In the balance lies the victim who seeks only equity and justice for the offense against them.
Now, instead of using the traditional police lineup, where five to six ‘possible suspects’ are brought in before an eyewitness, new methods are being used to identify suspects.
Some of those new police lineup methods can be found below:
NOTE – these methods are provided by The Innocence Project, which continually pushes for more effective methods of criminal identification (and who have outlined alternative options in a simple manner).
1. The “Double-blind” Procedure/ Use of a Blind Administrator: A “double-blind” lineup is one in which neither the administrator nor the eyewitness knows who the suspect is. This prevents the administrator of the lineup from providing inadvertent or intentional verbal or nonverbal cues to influence the eyewitness to pick the suspect.
2. Instructions: “Instructions” are a series of statements issued by the lineup administrator to the eyewitness that deter the eyewitness from feeling compelled to make a selection.
They also prevent the eyewitness from looking to the lineup administrator for feedback during the identification procedure. One of the recommended instructions includes the directive that the suspect may or may not be present in the lineup.
3. Composing the Lineup: A suspect photograph should be selected that does not bring unreasonable attention to him. Non-suspect photographs and/or live lineup members (fillers) should be selected based on their resemblance to the description provided by the witness – as opposed to their resemblance to the police suspect.
Note, however, that within this requirement, the suspect should not unduly stand out from among the other fillers. (More detailed recommendations can be provided by request by the Innocence Project).
4. Confidence Statements: Immediately following the lineup procedure, the eyewitness should provide a statement, in his own words, that articulates the level of confidence he has in the identification made.
5. The lineup procedure should be documented: Ideally, the lineup procedure should be electronically recorded. If this is impracticable, an audio or written record should be made.
6. Sequential Presentation of Lineups: When combined with a “blind” administrator, presenting lineup members one-by-one (sequentially), rather than all at once (simultaneously) has been proven to significantly increase the overall accuracy of eyewitness identifications.
The over-riding goal of lineup evolution and reform is to provide a better, more reliable system for identifying criminals through the use of eyewitness accounts. The livelihood of too many parties depends on the ability of the eyewitness – as well as law enforcement – to make accurate decisions.
*this post does not reflect the opinion of Galls, but does serve to provide relevant information to the law enforcement, public safety and judicial community.
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