What are the problems with eyewitness lineups?

Eyewitness lineups are used by prosecutors to help determine the perpetrator of a crime. Unfortunately, the results of eyewitness lineup procedures may be inaccurate and could lead to the wrongful conviction of an innocent person. Flaws in the eyewitness lineup process may contribute to these errors. Despite these errors, however, eyewitness identification is used as admissible evidence in court and can easily sway a jury. The Innocence Project reported that eyewitness misidentification is involved in 70 percent of cases that were overturned by a jury after DNA evidence proved the person was innocent of committing a crime.

First, eyewitness identification procedures are often led by an administrator that knows the details of the case. This enables the administrator to intentionally or inadvertently lead the witness to choose a certain person from the lineup. Ideally, the administrator should be blind to the case and should read from a script. The witness should be told that the perpetrator may or may not be in the actual lineup.

Mistakes may also occur when an eyewitness lineup is poorly organized. Lineups should include a diverse group of people which accurately represents the description of the perpetrator. In some cases, the lineup may have only one person that matches the victim’s description. For example, if the perpetrator was wearing a hat and had a mustache, there should be more than one person in the lineup that has these traits.

Finally, judges should be able to review all lineup procedures to verify that everything was handled properly. These procedures should be recorded for this reason.

This information is intended to educate and should not be taken as legal advice.

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