Flaws in the lineup process could send innocent people to prison


Flaws in the eyewitness identification process may cause a witness to select an innocent person from a physical or photo lineup.

Although eyewitness lineup procedures are still used to identify suspects that have committed a crime in Arizona, they are not error-proof. In fact, multiple studies show that there are potential flaws in the lineup process, which could, in some cases, lead to the incarceration of an innocent person. Once a person is chosen out of a lineup and labeled as the suspect of a crime, he or she is more likely to be considered guilty by a judge or jury in a court of law, according to PBS.org.

Lineup errors

Whether law enforcement officials are conducting a photographic or physical lineup, there are certain guidelines that should be followed in order to minimize the risk of error. First, each lineup should contain more than one person who has characteristics that are similar to the suspect. For example, if the suspect was said to have had facial hair and was wearing a hat when the crime occurred, there should be more than one person in the lineup with facial hair and wearing a hat. In a photographic lineup, all of the pictures should be the same size and uniformly formatted. If one picture is in color and the others are in black-and-white, the witness may be more likely to choose the colored picture.

Lineups should also be conducted by double blind administrators, or people who have no previous information about the crime. Double blind administrators are less likely to make unscripted comments, which could lead the witness to choose a specific person out of the lineup. These comments or nonverbal cues may be unintentional, but could be highly suggestive to a witness who is trying to make a difficult decision.

Factors that can lead to misidentification

In addition to poorly organized lineups and leading comments, there are several other factors that have an impact on the accuracy of an eyewitness identification. According to the American Bar Association, these include:

  • The number of pictures that are included in a photographic lineup
  • The amount of time that has passed from when the crime occurred to when the witness is asked to choose a suspect out of a lineup
  • How many times the witness is asked to identify the subject out of a lineup

The amount of lighting that was present, as well as how far away the witness was standing from the perpetrator when the crime took place can also make a difference when it comes to making a positive identification.

Upholding your rights

People who have been accused of committing a crime may feel overwhelmed, scared and emotional. Having a crime on your permanent record can affect many areas of your life. You may want to explore all of your legal rights and options by speaking with a criminal defense attorney in Arizona.