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The trouble with police lineups

On Behalf of | Feb 21, 2023 | Theft Crimes

During police investigations in California, the lineup is a frequent tool for law enforcement. A witness picking a subject out of a lineup is a valid piece of evidence in a court proceeding. However, there are several major known flaws with lineup-based evidence that could make it less useful than it may seem at first glance.

Lineup irregularities

When processing a valid lineup, it’s extremely important that the subjects shown have similar attributes and features. Things like skin tone or ethnicity, hair color, facial hair and other secondary characteristics all need to be relatively similar. Otherwise, there’s a risk that the suspect will be falsely identified, leading to a biased defense trial.

It’s also necessary for the subjects to be represented similarly in the lineup. If the suspect has different clothing on, or in the case of a photo lineup, if their photo is much more of a close-up than the other subjects’ photographs, this can easily make them stand out, which could lead to bias in testimony.

In a perfect world, police would always administer lineups fairly and with proper procedure. Sadly, though, whether through bias or simply due to human error, a lineup process may have serious problems that make its value for criminal defense lower than it initially seems.

When defending yourself against lineup testimony, it’s necessary to look into every aspect of the lineup, from the process to the results.

Lineups are not infallible

Any of the above irregularities can cause a lineup to produce questionable or flawed results. On top of that, the accuracy of eyewitnesses is questionable even under ideal circumstances.

Eyewitnesses frequently make errors, and it may be possible for a defense attorney to cast doubt on or outright invalidate the testimony of a witness’ lineup identification.

The prosecution will try to present a lineup and eyewitness testimony as infallible. The reality is, though, that these are inexact sciences, rife with human error and inaccuracies.

Lineups are a standard method of creating a match between a suspect and a witness, but it’s crucial to understand the potential trouble the police lineups may cause for a criminal defense trial.