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Can biases in police lineups be avoided?

On Behalf of | Mar 23, 2023 | Criminal Defense

Research has shown that lineups are superior to show-ups, or the Field Identification Procedure, which comes with countless difficulties in its accuracy. But lineups aren’t free from their own problems, and much of it comes down to the way the police procedure is conducted. If you find yourself on trial in New Jersey, this information may be pertinent to you.

Is there a right way to conduct a lineup?

When done correctly, a lineup is an essential tool in the work of law enforcement officers and investigators for criminals to be positively identified. The technique often plays heavily into decisions of who is innocent and who is guilty after a crime has been committed.

But a significant amount of the procedure’s success rides on how it’s put together. The lineup’s context and the way that the investigators behave all play a major role in whether the results become biased or otherwise compromised in the identification process.

Investigators can unintentionally tip off witnesses

One way a lineup’s results may be biased is if an investigator stands within the line of vision of the witness. It’s remarkably easy for people to notice subtle facial cues and body language. Without even intending to, witnesses could get a read on who they’re supposed to be focusing on in the lineup.

No matter how neutral an investigator tries to be, it doesn’t take much to tip off a witness as to the suspect’s identity. This may lead him or her to make a decision based on what he or she perceives is expected of him or her rather than solely on his or her own recollection of the events.

Which method works best?

There’s also a lack of consensus over whether it’s better to use a sequential or simultaneous method when conducting a lineup. When photos of the foils and suspect are presented one at a time in the sequential method, there’s a slightly lower chance that an innocent person will be impugned in a criminal defense case.

The simultaneous method, in which all the photos are presented at once, side-by-side, is more traditional. The chances of the innocent being impugned are somewhat higher, but there’s also a better chance that the witness will positively identify the guilty person.

The psychology of how a lineup is administrated has a major impact on the validity of the identifications that witnesses make. From the method used to the investigators’ behavior, there are many ways this procedure can be biased.