In previous posts on this blog, we have discussed some of the deeply flawed procedures and elements of the legal system that contribute to issues like wrongful convictions and overly harsh penalties. One such procedure is the use of lineups as a means of identifying alleged offenders.
In fact, according to this article on false IDs and lineups, misidentification by eyewitnesses played a role in over 70 percent of wrongful convictions.
With that in mind, some states are making changes to their lineup procedures. While Pennsylvania is not among those that have implemented new procedures in at least 75 percent of the state, it can be helpful to know what changes others are making and why they are making them.
These are lineups where officers in the room do not know who the suspect is in the lineup, or if the suspect is even in the lineup. If the officers do not know, they cannot give any clues — purposefully or not — to the witness.
Noting witness confidence
Police also record how confident a person is with his or her identification during a lineup. Identification by someone who is very unsure can be less reliable than someone who is very confident.
Using “fillers” responsibly
Other people who appear in a lineup (the “fillers”) should bear some resemblance to the suspect, as described by the witness. There should also be at least five other people in the lineup.
Easing pressure on witnesses
Witnesses should know that the suspect may not be in the lineup at all. This is supposed to make a witness feel less pressured to just pick someone.
Those who support these measures hope that they will dramatically reduce the number of wrongful convictions involving misidentification. However, critics argue that these measures are costly, impractical and possibly a detriment to cases involving witnesses who don’t feel comfortable identifying suspects with an officer they don’t know.
Despite these objections and the fact that such measures are not in place everywhere, this can serve as a reminder that the lineup process is flawed and warrants scrutiny if it leads to a person’s arrest and criminal charges.