A criminal charge for a felony or violent crime can be a terrifying thing to face. A conviction that leads to a prison sentence may mean years of isolation, intimidation, fear for your safety, and separation from your family and all that is familiar to you. Perhaps the most upsetting factor is that a supposed eyewitness picked you out of a police lineup.
In a recent study, researchers found that about 71 percent of wrongful convictions resulted from eyewitnesses picking the wrong person from a lineup. While about half of the states in the country, including Texas, have introduced new protocols for handling police lineups, not every agency in every state follows these new guidelines for preventing false accusations.
What's wrong with a lineup?
Police lineups, whether with photographs or live people, have the potential for many flaws that can lead to devastating consequences if you are wrongly accused. In many cases, it is the conduct of police before, during and after the lineup that leads to false accusations. Some common reasons for mistaken identifications in lineups include the following:
- Police may make subtle comments such as, "Take your time," if a witness leans toward choosing someone in the lineup besides you.
- If the witness chooses you but is not confident of the choice, police may intentionally discuss the evidence against you within the hearing of the witness so the witness will be more confident during testimony at your trial.
- Officers may choose fillers to stand with you in the lineup who are very different from you in appearance so that you stand out to the witness.
- Police may prepare the witness by implying that the suspect is certainly among those in the lineup, pressuring the witness to make a choice, even a wrong one.
Another issue with lineups is that witnesses in stressful situations do not always remember faces and events accurately. In fact, studies show that the suggestions of police easily influence witness' memories of crimes.
Fixing the problem with lineups
The new protocol for lineups includes having no more than one suspect among the fillers and having all fillers resemble the suspect description as much as possible. Advocates for the wrongly accused believe the key is double-blind lineups. This means the officers in the room with the witnesses do not know who the suspect is or even if the suspect is in the lineup. When witnesses know these facts, they are less likely to make rash choices.
If you are facing criminal charges resulting from witness identification in a police lineup, you certainly have reason for concern. Taking your concerns to a skilled defense attorney will provide you with an experienced ally who can challenge the methods investigators used to arrest and charge you.