Flaws in lineup procedures could lead to wrongful convictions

Eyewitness misidentification has played a role in a number of cases where an innocent person is found guilty of committing a crime.

During many criminal investigations, eyewitnesses are asked to choose the suspect out of a physical or photo lineup. The results of these lineup procedures often lead New Jersey law enforcement officers to investigate certain people. Eyewitness identifications may be used as evidence in a court trial and can result in a criminal conviction. The problem with this lies in the fact that eyewitness identification is not always reliable and flaws in lineup procedures can result to inaccurate eyewitness identifications. According to the Innocence Project, approximately 330 innocent people have been wrongfully convicted of crimes they did not commit. In at least 70 percent of those cases, the innocent person was the victim of eyewitness misidentification.

Questioning the reliability of eyewitness lineups

Research published by the American Bar Association shows that even when the actual suspect is not included in a physical lineup, the wrong person is chosen nearly one-third of the time. In cases where the prime suspect is included in the lineup, the wrong person was chosen in a quarter of the lineups. Once an eyewitness misidentifies a person as a suspect, the innocent victim can have a hard time proving their innocence.

Problems with the lineup process

The Innocence Project reported several factors that can lead to inaccuracies in the lineup identification process. These include:

  • Lineup administrators who verbally or physically lead witnesses to choose a certain person out of a lineup. Lineups should be administered by people who do not have any prior information about the case.
  • Photos in a lineup that are different from the others may cause the eyewitness to unintentionally choose that picture. For example, if one photo is in color and the others are in black-and-white, or if one headshot is larger than the others, the witness may be more likely to select the picture that stands out.
  • Lineup administrators who say comments before and after the witness makes a selection could inadvertently suggest that the witness chose the 'right' suspect. All lineup procedures should be taped to ensure that there was no leading of the witness.
  • Unorganized lineups may contain just one person that matches the suspect's description. If the suspect was said to have had a beard, there should be more than one person in the lineup that has a beard.

Although flawed lineup procedures can lead to a wrongful conviction, there are steps that law enforcement can take to improve identification accuracies.

When to get an attorney involved

If you are facing criminal charges, you may not know where to turn next. You should consider speaking to a defense attorney regarding the details of your case. A criminal lawyer in New Jersey may be able to answer your questions and help you formulate a strong defense.