Police lineups are often used as a tool to identify criminal suspects. However, there is growing concern over the accuracy of these lineups. In recent years, there have been a number of high-profile cases in which innocent people were wrongly convicted based on faulty police lineups. It’s important to understand the limitations of police lineups in order to ensure that justice gets served.
What are police lineups?
Simply put, a police lineup is when law enforcement officers present a group of people to a witness or victim of a crime, in the hopes that the individual will identify the suspect. Lineups can be physical or photographic. In a physical lineup, the suspects are typically lined up side by side and viewed by the witness one at a time. In a photographic lineup, the witness is shown a book of photos or a computer screen with photos of the potential suspects.
How accurate are police lineups?
Any specialist in criminal defense will tell you that police lineups are not always reliable. One of the biggest problems is that witnesses may feel pressure to choose someone from the lineup even if they’re not sure. This is known as the “choice bias.” For instance, a witness may feel like they have to choose someone from the lineup because the police have told them that the suspect is definitely in the group. Or, the witness may think that choosing someone from the lineup is the only way to help solve the crime.
What can be done to improve police lineups?
There are a few things that can be done to improve the accuracy of police lineups, one of which is to use what’s known as a “blind” lineup, where the officer presenting the lineup does not know who the suspect is. This helps to prevent any bias on the part of the officer from affecting the witness’ decision. Another is to have the witness view the lineup one person at a time, rather than all at once. This allows the witness to take their time and really focus on each individual separately.
If an innocent person is wrongly identified as the suspect in a police lineup, it can have serious consequences. That person may get arrested and charged with a crime they did not commit. That’s why it’s so important to make sure that police lineups are as accurate as possible.